“We’ve been unable to maintain those preventative measures to keep people out of jail,” said Bill Lindsey, director of South Carolina’s National Association on Mental Illness.
During former Gov. Mark Sanford’s term, the fiscal pressure was inescapable. The recession cut state revenue by more than $1 billion from 2008 to 2011.
“It wasn’t really Sanford’s fault,” said former state Rep. Dan Cooper, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “There just wasn’t enough money to go around.”
Revenues have since recovered somewhat, and are projected to be at levels last seen in 2008.
In Kansas, under then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, state psychiatric hospitals began treating only the most dangerous cases. Caseloads at the Johnson County Mental Health Center near Kansas City rose from the recommended 15 per caseworker to more than 30 in 2010.
Tim DeWeese, the center’s clinical director, said one of his patients who had finished college and gotten a job and an apartment became homeless after his doctor visits were cut off.
“It came crashing down all the way,” DeWeese said.
Oklahoma also cut mental health programs in 2010 and 2011. But Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, a conservative elected in the GOP landslide of 2010 on a promise to cut spending, reversed course last year after grim warnings about the effect on public safety, and after several teen suicides in Oklahoma City.
“There just weren’t enough resources,” said Harry Tyler, director of the Mental Health Association of Central Oklahoma.
Fallin approved a 20 percent budget increase and has pledged to make mental health a priority again this year.
“You’ll see more emphasis on being able to identify people that might have mental health challenges,” she said.
Tyler said he would encourage Fallin to provide more money for screening teenagers who could endanger themselves or others.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Republican, has promised to fully implement a new program under which people are required to take medication and attend therapy if a judge believes they pose a risk.
Mike Hammond, executive director of Kansas’ Association of Community Mental Health Centers, said his state’s governor is looking for new ideas on mental health care.
“I think he’s realized what’s happening in our system,” Hammond said.