Addressing Mental Illness Today Can Help Save Lives Later

The recent tragedy in Tucson sheds light on a great crisis in mental health care playing out in our country. There are many people in our society who need mental health services but don’t have access to them. The needs of those with mental illness often are pushed aside or ignored until it’s too late. And unfortunately, mental illness still maintains a stigma that other health care issues do not.Mike King January 2011 eSpirit Video

For a generation, the mental health safety net in our country has been eroding. Programs and facilities for those with mental illness have been closed and funding has been cut. Thousands of people who suffer from these conditions live undiagnosed and untreated.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a freeze on federal funds for nondefense discretionary expenditures over the next five years. This would likely include spending on social services such as mental health care, and may turn out to be a best-case scenario. Many in Congress want to cut funding for these programs significantly, returning funding levels to FY 2008 levels. While we certainly want our government to be fiscally responsible and take a hard look at funding for nonessential services, we also must be careful not to further erode much-needed services like mental health care that were already underfunded to begin with.

Volunteers of America has always understood the importance of mental health services as an essential part of helping many who we serve live better lives. Mental health counseling is a central part of many of our programs, including those for the homeless, veterans and those recovering from substance abuse. Fostering strong mental health is part of our integrated approach to addressing the root causes of our clients’ problems and helping them live independently and self-sufficiently. Our other efforts would be in vain if we didn’t first focus on any underlying mental illnesses.

To do this, of course, requires adequate funding. It is especially important today, with the spotlight now focused on the dangers of untreated mental illness and the current trend toward government funding cuts, that current services are not eroded even further. We must overcome the stigma that comes with mental illness and see this kind of care as an important part of helping people get their lives back on track.

Please join me in keeping the important issue of mental health on our national radar screen. The problems we address now may save lives in the future.

Sincerely,

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Mike King
President and CEO