OPINION: Budget cuts for mental illness deny care for the vulnerable

As the year draws to a close I have many reasons to be grateful, so I will address the issue that is of greatest concern to me right now to include the aspects that I am grateful for.
Mississippi’s governor has declared the needs of our state’s residents who have mental illness to be less important priorities in his fiscal year 2010 budget.
Gov. Haley Barbour announced last month that he favors closing many of the state’s mental health facilities, three of them in Northeast Mississippi: North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, the Corinth Crisis Intervention Center and the Maddux Crisis Intervention Center in Batesville.
These services have been funded and available to those in need for only a few years.
It has not been that long since people going through acute mental health crises were hauled off to county jails to await an inpatient bed.
Funding additional state hospitals and community mental health centers has eased the trauma for people with mental illness and their family members when the need arises for inpatient care. After all, these individuals didn’t do anything to cause their illnesses, and having a mental illness is not a crime.
Despite the governor’s “Bah, humbug!” attitude toward the problem, however, there are still reasons to be grateful.
n I am grateful that insightful state legislators several years ago supported a plan to extend inpatient mental health treatment into communities closer to where many who need treatment live, and.
n I am grateful that courageous state legislators overcame objections to pass legislation that has funded state hospitals and community mental health centers for the past few years.
n I am grateful that there are compassionate state legislators who will listen to the thousands of families throughout the state – like mine – that depend on these facilities and services to support family members with mental illness and vote against the governor’s budget recommendations to close facilities.
n I am grateful that Mississippians who have been diagnosed with a mental illness have support systems beyond their families that include the National Alliance on Mental Illness, local support groups, clubhouses and other safe and supportive social environments.
n I am grateful for individual volunteers who are dedicated to helping families and individuals diagnosed with mental illness cope with the many aspects of the illness that confront them daily.
We are outraged when we learn that there are nursing homes where vulnerable adults are badly treated, and clamor loudly for resources to protect them.
Out state’s residents who suffer from mental illness are no less vulnerable, and no less in need of our concern, care and protection.

Lena Mitchell is Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter. Contact her at 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Lena Mitchel/NEMS Daily Journal