A year that could have brought another round of thinning resources and a spot far down the priority list of policymakers is shaping up quite differently in some statehouses.
In Minnesota, for example, legislators are seeking more resources for mental-health treatment programs in the state’s schools. In Pennsylvania, a Republican state representative is spearheading the effort to reclaim $84 million in funding that had been slashed from the most recent state budget, saying that adequate treatment is key to safer communities, “not a luxury.” In Virginia and other states, lawmakers have proposed funding “mental-health first aid” training to help teachers and first responders better spot people in need of help.
Wisconsin’s famously budget-conscious governor, Republican Scott Walker, this month proposed a nearly $30 million boost to mental-health spending in his budget, including funding for a program that allows counties to provide mental-health services to people in their homes. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) proposed an $18.5 million effort that includes money for a statewide mental-health crisis hotline, walk-in centers and housing vouchers for the severely mentally ill.
In Delaware, Democratic Gov. Jack Markell’s budget includes funding for a sharp increase in the number of mental-health professionals working in middle schools. In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has vowed to help revitalize a mental-health system that has suffered deep cuts in recent years, cuts she has called “immoral.”
“The difference now is that legislators know that people are paying attention to whether they are taking steps. That’s important. That gives us a lot of leverage,” said Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Child and Adolescent Action Center at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We can start talking about who is putting their money where their mouth is. It’s a new day in that sense. . . . We will not squander the opportunity.”
The proposed changes are not just happening on the state level.
Since December’s tragic shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama has spoken publicly about the need for better and expanded mental-health care as part of a broader plan to reduce gun violence — even as he reiterated that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses never turn violent.
U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle have proposed legislation that would set standards for mental-health care throughout the country and open the door to more federal funding for treatment in schools and community-based organizations.