Mental health advocates plead for funding

Darci Marchese, wtop.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Advocates for people suffering with mental illness will plead with lawmakers in Annapolis Tuesday to avoid drastically cutting the budget for mental health. Groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Montgomery County, say the lack of funding could have deadly consequences.

“Suicide is a result of untreated mental illness. If we don’t get treatment for people who need it the most, we end up with people who are dead,” said NAMI Executive Director Kathryn Slye-Griffin.

Griffin said the numbers are going in the wrong direction. She says calls for help, attempted and completed suicides are on the rise in Montgomery County.

Raymond Crowel, chief of Behavioral Health and Crisis Services for the Montgomery County Health Department, said the most recent data show there has been an increase in suicides between 2004 and 2009. In 2009, the number of suicides was triple the number of homicides.

“The economy has done nothing good for suicide rates, and unfortunately, when you combine that with less treatment because of the lack of funding, it’s a really ugly picture,” Griffin said.

Maryland lawmakers are considering millions of dollars in cuts to the mental health care system. Advocates for NAMI will flood the State House to plead for adequate funding.

In an email to WTOP, Griffin said, “Our message to the legislature is that individuals and families impacted by mental illness support to live healthy and balanced lives as active participants in our community. Support can protect mental health services and preserve the hope of recovery.

“I hope that the General Assembly can visualize all those people who need these services standing at that finish line. Joblessness, homelessness, suicide and increased utilization of the criminal justice system will be the result without prioritization and adequate funding for individuals living with mental illness.”

Suicide claims tens of thousands of lives every year. According to the American Association of Suicidology, on average, one person killed himself every 14.2 minutes in 2009. Nearly 37,000 lost their lives to suicide in 2009.

There are many resources for people struggling. Montgomery County maintains a 24-hour Crisis Hotline: 301-738-CALL (2255).

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