Most states reduced mental health services since 2009

But at least two say a report's figures inflate the cuts to such services.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Nov. 23, 2011

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A new report highlighting nearly $1.2 billion in net state cuts to mental health services from fiscal year 2009 to 2011 did not capture the complexities of individual states' spending, but authors said it does provide evidence that most states are reducing mental health care funding.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia reduced their spending on mental health services by almost $1.7 billion between fiscal 2009 and 2011. Twenty-two states increased their funding by $487 million, producing net cuts of about $1.2 billion, according to the 16-page survey, "State Mental Health Cuts: A Continuing Crisis." The National Alliance on Mental Health, an advocacy organization for mental health patients, released the report on Nov. 10 as a follow-up to a similar NAMI survey from March.

"We think the amount of cuts are probably substantially higher," said Ron Honberg, NAMI director of policy and legal affairs.

The report found that South Carolina led all states in terms of the proportion of reductions. The state cut its general fund mental health dollars by 39%, or $73.6 million, since fiscal 2009. Alabama was second on the list with cuts of 36%, or $36.1 million, for the same period.

California led all states in terms of total dollar reductions, with a total of $764.8 million in general fund cuts to mental health services, according to the report.

However, state mental health officials in South Carolina and Alabama said the NAMI report exaggerates their mental health cuts because general fund dollars are only part of their financing. For example, in South Carolina, state general funds account for only about 40% of program funding in fiscal 2012, said Mark Binkley, general counsel and deputy director of the South Carolina Dept. of Mental Health's Division of Administrative Services.

South Carolina is spending less on mental health care, Binkley acknowledged. "We've experienced reduced services at all levels." He did not have a more accurate figure for state mental health cuts in particular.

The NAMI report prompted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to pledge to increase state mental health funding in her fiscal 2013 budget proposal, due in early 2012, said Kelly Troyer, executive director of the NAMI chapter in Greenville, S.C. No recent South Carolina governor has made this type of promise on the record before, Troyer said. "We're going to hold her feet to the fire to make sure it happens."

The NAMI report greatly misstated the Alabama mental health cuts, said John Ziegler, PhD, spokesman for the Alabama Dept. of Mental Health. When considering all of its sources of revenue, the state reduced its mental health funding by only 6.3% between 2009 and 2011 -- not 36%. However, he said his department leaders join NAMI in advocating for more mental health care funding.

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