Mental health needs rise as economy worsens

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The fight may become more difficult for people needing professional help for mental illness. As part of her recent budget proposal, Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for a 2.3 percent cut in funding for the community mental health system. The cuts would go into effect in October.

The estimated $7.55 million in savings would likely hurt a diverse group of people, mental health experts claim.

“People who aren’t on Medicaid but go to their local community mental health center, money for them will be cut,” said Mark Reinstein, president of the Mental Health Association in Michigan, based in Southfield.

“Money for families who use respite care will be cut. Projects for older adults, pilot mental health court funding, and projects targeted to different cultural and ethnic groups would be eliminated.”

The proposed cuts come at a time when more and more residents are seeking professional help.

“We have been discussing that locally within our agency, and it’s very clear that the number of calls to our access center have continued to increase,” said Greg Paffhouse, corporate executive officer of Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, based in Traverse City. “They have had a significant number of calls with depression and anxiety as people struggle to make ends meet.”

James Dillon, director of the Office of Psychiatric and Medical Services at the Department of Community Health, agreed that some mental illness rates rise amid economic hardships.

“At the low end, anxiety and depression, illnesses we call adjusting disorders, tend to rise. With more severe issues like suicide, rates may rise, but there have been conflicting studies about that,” Dillon said.

John Doberteen, who heads the St. Joseph County Mental Health Board, said that decreased funding for mental health could have adverse effects.

“It puts a strain on all the other departments,” he said. “If someone can’t get the mental help he needs, they may be more likely to do something like rob a store and that would put more pressure on jails and courts.”

Paffhouse said his organization is debating how to handle the proposed budget cuts.

“We don’t have an exact plan in place, but if we can find a way to reduce administrative costs, we will do that.”

Paffhouse said his group would try to implement proactive services like crisis intervention to avoid the costs of hospitalization. “We’ll have to look at whether we’ll have to make concessions but we certainly hope we don’t have to go there.”

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