I’m getting the feeling that people are tuning out when they hear talk of the sequester, kind of like a song you’ve heard played too many times. From the fiscal cliff to the deficit ceiling to the sequester, we’re all getting tired of manufactured Washington crises.
But as a mental health professional (and a mom, and a concerned member of society), I respectfully request that you tune back in, and speak up. Because the sequester’s cuts to mental health and Head Start programs won’t only hurt those being served; they can have grave consequences for all of us.
In my previous post, written in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, I talked about how secure attachment is a form of violence prevention and that mental health services can facilitate that attachment. Yet the sequester threatens to cut just the type of programs that would help.
According to the Washington Post, if a sequester takes effect, up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children could go untreated. That’s a public health issue, but it’s also a matter of public safety.
Now, am I saying that all emotionally disturbed children become violent adults, or that mentally ill adults are all violent? Of course not. Most are merely people who are suffering themselves, which is unacceptable enough.
But there is also the potential to bring suffering on others through violence, as we’ve seen from the rise in mass shootings over the past months. We need greater outreach, assessment, and access to mental health services, not funding cuts.
And if we take a holistic view, other sequester cuts can also have adverse effects on society. There will be cuts to research and innovation, which may mean we won’t find more effective psychopharmaceuticals. There will be cuts to education, and to Head Start, which means that some children will find themselves chronically behind and their families under stress–both risk factors for mental health issues and, potentially, violence.
I’m not trying to be alarmist, but if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know where violence will strike. What we do know is that we, as a country, as a society, are not providing enough detection and treatment to prevent tragedies from occurring.
We can’t prevent all tragedies, obviously. But we can do a better job at trying, and that means that we can’t afford cuts to programs that help alleviate suffering.
We’ve got a little time before the sequester cuts take effect, and there’s definitely time for them to be watered down or for new deals to be struck. So if you’re concerned like I am, it’s time to start contacting your representatives. It’s never too late to speak up for the society in which you want to live.
Man on stairs photo available from Shutterstock