Experts agree that “system” isn’t even an appropriate descriptor for the state of services designed to treat mental illness: there is little coordination of care and various agencies in health, education, mental health, addiction, disability, child welfare and law enforcement, often work at cross-purposes. . .
Families with out-of-control, suicidal or aggressive children have no central place to turn to for help, and no coordinated action plan for learning about and accessing services that could provide desperately needed support. And those who can provide help are in short supply; a recent government report showed that 7500 psychiatrists currently serve the needs of children and adolescents, while around 20,000 are needed. . .
Funding is also dramatically declining: states have lost some $4 billion in mental health funding over the past three years, the largest cuts since the de-institutionalization movement of the 1970s. And those cuts could get deeper. At least 10% of federal spending on mental health care is slated to be cut if Congress and the President don’t agree on a new budget before January, with advocates estimating that at least 1,300 severely emotionally disturbed children will lose access to care entirely. Some 320,000 will no longer receive early intervention and other services that can minimize the most severe symptoms of some cases of mental illness, which can require more expensive and lengthy in-patient care. Medicaid, which accounts for 50% of public mental health spending, may also be targeted, leaving thousands more without services.