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Budget cuts to behavioral health devastate the most vulnerable

Too often, we forget that people with mental illnesses are all around us, trying their best to work hard and lead productive lives. That’s why it was a privilege last month to celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week, a perfect time for Arizonans to remember our friends and neighbors who are suffering from behavioral health issues.

The purpose of Mental Illness Awareness Week is to spread awareness and understanding. Most of those impacted are responsible, capable, intelligent people who have issues that profoundly affect their daily lives. Many have experienced the embarrassment or fear of their condition, and the constant concern of relapse.

These people do not go away when state services are slashed. They do not disappear when we close our eyes. With the recent draconian budget cuts to behavioral health services, many of these good people can no longer receive the outreach and medication they so desperately need.

What Arizona lawmakers failed to consider is that without ongoing care, some of these people are beginning to mentally deteriorate, costing the state far more in emergency services such as police intervention, hospitalization or even incarceration. In addition, doctors and law enforcement officers are forced to deal with an increased number of mental health crises in an already overloaded crisis response system.

Arizonans have the ability to change this. By writing your lawmakers and spreading the word about the recent budget cuts, you can show our elected officials that you care about the health and stability of your community. Remind lawmakers that there are sensible solutions to this budget crisis that don’t devastate our most vulnerable citizens. You can support those who have shown where they stand on these issues.

What kind of Arizona do we want for our families? We cannot afford to make mistakes that will cost us millions in the future. Our voices must be heard before it’s too late. With your help and support, we can live in a smarter, healthier community.

— Clarke Romans is executive director of the southern Arizona chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He has been involved with mental illness advocacy for more than 30 years.

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