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What the Cuts to Mental Health Mean

[Editor’s note: These comments were made by Jon Dosick at the State House rally for a fair budget on June 30th, 2003. We are grateful to Jon for sharing his insights with us.]

As a member of yet another community facing devastating budget cuts, I am here today to express my concern and outrage. People with mental illness (who I will refer to as “consumers”) are among our most vulnerable populations.

I myself have suffered from major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety for over half my life. I’ve been hospitalized ten times, and taken over a dozen different medications. Words cannot describe the horrors of my experience.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a caring family, supportive friends, and a healthy housing situation. My treators are top-quality, and, (at least for now), I enjoy good insurance coverage under MassHealth.

However, across the state, hundreds of thousands suffer far more intensely than I ever have, surviving with great dignity and courage. But, as if we weren’t burdened enough, society stigmatizes us with perjorative words, and the media stereotypes us as dangerous and violent.

In a truly representative democracy, fairness and respect are critical. Not so for Massachusetts’ 2004 budget.

Already in great trouble, the Department of Mental Health (or DMH) is taking a fourteen-point-two million dollar hit. Meanwhile, twenty thousand people sit on its waiting list. Some details:

-Adult inpatient services are cut by eleven million dollars, with additional cuts to emergency services. Many consumers in crisis will have nowhere to go, resulting in increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

-Unfortunately, some consumers will seek solace through drugs and alcohol. They will be further victimized by massive cuts to substance abuse programs.

-As thousands of children, legal immigrants, and the homeless lose health care coverage, the demand for psychiatric services will climb. Cuts to other Health and Human service agencies will greatly increase these needs.

Governor Romney’s re-organization plan for the Office of Health and Human Services is bound to cause chaos and confusion, as offices are closed, moved, and consolidated. DMH-dedicated caseworkers will have to work as “across-the-board” caseworkers throughout the new system.

-The administration will have new powers to determine who is disabled, and many items restored in the final budget have deceptive stipulations attached to them.

What makes this situation all the more absurd is the fact that there are practical, common-sense solutions to the budget crisis-but the Governor, and most of the legislature, will not take that crucial step. They wish to continue taxing the most vulnerable of us far more heavily than those in positions of power and wealth, while awarding themselves handsomely with bloated pay raises.

Mental health consumers are a powerful force. As part of the larger community gathered here today, we raise our voices in protest. We will fight back, again and again if necessary, until justice and equality return to Massachusetts.

Thank you very much.


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