Jared Loughner and Mental Illness: The Devastating Effects of Budget Cuts that Slash Care to the Mentally Ill
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Editor's note: The following is a transcript of an interview with H. Clarke Romans, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona.
AMY GOODMAN: While federal investigators and the news media try to uncover the motivation behind the attack, the picture emerging of Jared Loughner is of a severely disturbed 22-year-old who was behaving in an increasingly erratic manner. YouTube videos and other internet postings under his name suggest an obsession with bizarre anti-government grievances, including ramblings about currency policies and language control through grammar. Acquaintances in Arizona said Loughner had distanced himself from friends and family members in recent years.
In September, he was suspended from Pima County Community College after five run-ins with campus police for disruptive behavior, being thrown out of class, students saying they were afraid, professors saying that they were afraid of him. College administrators told him he needed clearance from a mental health professional saying he would not present a danger to himself or others before he could return to classes. Pima County behavioral health officials have no record of Loughner seeking treatment in the public system overseen by the Arizona State Department of Health Services.
Saturday’s attack and Jared Loughner’s apparent mental health problems have shone a spotlight on issues surrounding mental health treatment in Arizona. The state made drastic budget cuts to behavioral health services in 2010. The unprecedented cuts slashed all support services for non-Medicaid behavioral health patients and took away coverage for most name-brand drugs. As many as 28,000 state residents were affected. Meanwhile, Arizona is facing even bigger budget cuts this year and is facing an estimated $1.4 billion deficit in 2012.
H. Clarke Romans is the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona. He’s joining us from Tucson.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about your response to what has taken place.
H. CLARKE ROMANS: Well, our response so far has just been to point out that the availability of services has diminished due to these budget cuts, and although there’s no direct link, it just makes it less likely that people would be able to get services, even if they overcome the stigma of admitting or acknowledging that they have these illnesses. It just makes the availability of services even more difficult to obtain.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen now, H. Clarke Romans?
H. CLARKE ROMANS: Well, I think that the legislature has taken a simplistic approach to solving the budget crisis, with respect to mental health services, at least. What we’re finding in the community is that the costs were not really eliminated; they were just pushed down to less visible areas in the community, and we’re responding to the difficulties with the most expensive form of services that the community has to offer to people. That’s emergency rooms, hospitalization, law enforcement intervention. So, the communities are spending the money, even though it appears that the lawmakers believe that they have actually cut the budget and saved money. It’s just coming out of a different pocket down at the community level. And I think that we need to acknowledge that it ultimately is less expensive in the community to offer necessary services. And this is all without respect to the devastating impact this has had on people’s lives.
AMY GOODMAN: What had been the effect of the budget cuts, specifically?
H. CLARKE ROMANS: Well, I can give a number of examples, but in particular, people who have a serious mental illness diagnosis beginning last July were denied any further coverage in a number of areas—case management, brand-name medications, access to support groups, transportation subsidies, and more recently, housing subsidies. So these individuals who have the most serious forms of mental illness were essentially, except for generic medications, were basically pushed out of the system. And these are individuals who have a serious illness, who, in many cases, were managing with a support network, are now being pushed to the point where they can’t manage. So they’re decompensating. There’s suicide attempts. There’s one woman that we know that’s very ill, but she’s been managing OK. She’s now been hospitalized for 36 days over the last six months.