by Todd Woodfill, Executive Director of TW Foundation
Sure, trash piling up at our national monuments and parks is catching all of the attention of media and reporters, but there is a much bigger impact that isn't being talked about.
Many people have had aspects of their life sent into a tailspin because of the shutdown, and there is currently no end in sight. In fact, the bad news keeps on coming for services people depend on such as health care, welfare, and mental health programs. The shutdown itself isn't about health policies. It's the result of differences of opinion between the administration and congressional Democrats regarding funding for President Trump's border wall. But it's far-reaching, nonetheless.
This article isn't about your opinion of our president or those in congress, whether people are going to be flowing through our borders or whether we have a responsibility as humans to help others, or even about whether you care about politics at all. This is about people who are in need of help and unable to get it because two sides of our government are unable to act like responsible adults and negotiate a resolution.
For the vast majority of the federal government's public health efforts, luckily, it's business as usual.
That's because Congress has already passed five of its major appropriations bills, funding about three-fourths of the federal government, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But seven bills are outstanding — including those that fund the Interior, Agriculture and Justice departments — and that puts the squeeze on some important health-related initiatives.
If you’ve been wondering how the government shutdown is impacting mental health care, here’s a rundown of its deleterious effects:
Mental health services for low-income Americans. According to an article in the Washington Times, low-income residents of Washington DC may lose access to mental health services because the DC Department of Health Care Finance won’t be able to make its next Medicare payment. While this was a local article, it speaks to a national crisis given that Medicare is a federal program that fuels community mental health services around the country.
National Institutes of Mental Health. It’s closed. Not sure why this is a big deal? Consider that NIMH funds and conducts both basic and clinical research into the causes, treatments, and prevention of mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. With NIMH shut down, both ongoing and future research is in jeopardy. Don’t forget that real people are enrolled in clinical trials and may be depending on treatments that have provided them with the first real relief in their whole lives.
Head Start. According to an article in the New York Times, the only reason Head Start programs are still running in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi is because a generous Houston couple donated $10 million to the National Head Start Program in order to keep programs running that had closed or were about to close because of the government shutdown. Head Start provides key resources and programs for autistic children and kids with other mental health challenges.
Health services for Native Americans are also on hold. Because Congress has yet to approve funding for the Indian Health Service, which is run by HHS but gets its money through the Department of the Interior, IHS feels the full weight of the shutdown. The only services that can continue are those that meet "immediate needs of the patients, medical staff, and medical facilities," according to the shutdown contingency plan.
Thankfully, our veterans services are funded which includes their mental health treatment. The shutdown hasn't been able to affect the already abysmal mental health coverage of our first responders, but many of our youth and teens throughout the country are left without help... all over a wall.
If you’re as incensed about this as I am, please speak out to your representatives and encourage them to find a way to end this madness so that our country can access the mental health care services it needs and deserves. I'm not asking them to agree to a wall and I'm not asking them to ensure we get a wall. I'm asking them to negotiate and work in the best interest of the American people instead of their pocketbook or political party.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.