N.H. mental health cuts will hurt people, families

Letters, March 30, 2011

The cuts in mental health services proposed in the New Hampshire Legislature will have a devastating effect on people with mental illness, their families and all who care about them. Seacoast Mental Health Center stands to have its budget cut by $1.9 million (out of $9.3 million) and will be forced to stop serving more than 1,000 people who have no where else to turn. The cuts will weaken the infrastructure, impair emergency care, interfere with treatment of current clients, delay or eliminate treatment with new clients and make it much harder to retain personnel. As a psychiatrist who has worked in the public mental health system for more than 30 years, I see first-hand the consequences of indifference to the poor, sick and vulnerable. These cuts will result in an increase in despair and suicides, hospitalizations, increased numbers of people being unable to work due to their symptoms, and more people getting unnecessarily entwined in the (much more costly) legal system.

These huge cuts are part of a national effort to roll back protections for our citizens and preserve more money for the wealthy. Their strategy is to pick away at the weakest among us, step by step, and hope that the rest of us won't fight back. We see it in Congress, who gave tax cuts to the wealthy in order to get true tax relief and job promotions for the working class. We see it when leaders in Congress try to cut Social Security and Medicare. We see it in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Maine and New Hampshire, where collective bargaining rights are being attacked. We see it in Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage wants to cut taxes for the wealthiest 10 percent and pay public employees less.

And we see it in New Hampshire House, where Martin Harty stated, "I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population." While Harty only said it, the people who support these cuts will be taking a step in his direction. They'll say it's not, that these cuts are necessary for "shared sacrifice." They think like Martin Harty; they are just better at hiding it.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan asked people, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?," replacing Kennedy's admonition to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Selfishness became our core value, and taxes came to be the ultimate evil. Since Reagan uttered those words, 94 percent of the new wealth created in this country went to the top 20 percent of the wealthy. Forty-two percent went to the top 1 percent. The ratio of pay for CEOs of major corporations to the average worker went from 42:1 in 1980 to 344:1 in 2007. Chief executive officers' pay at these corporations increased by 300 percent during this time span, while the average worker gained only 3.4 percent (adjusted for inflation).

The people at the top of the economic ladder seem to believe that they should benefit from the U.S. system of free enterprise and that they owe nothing to anyone else who helps make that system work. But where would rich people be without soldiers to fight the wars, without police to protect them from crime, without firefighters to save them in the middle of the night, without workers to perform the physical tasks that their fortunes are made from, without people who build and maintain the roads that their products travel on and without nurses when they get sick?

Don't people deserve a decent wage, health care and a good education? There is no God-given right to selfish behavior and there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prevents us from determining how the fruits of our incredible country and amazing political system will be shared. Our well-being is what we decide together as a nation. Right now, the forces of selfishness have the upper hand. It doesn't have to be this way.

On a national level, eliminating the Bush tax cuts for people who make over $250,000 a year and shifting our health care system away from one that is profit-driven toward a model centered on health (e.g. Medicare-for-all) would improve our health and pocketbook. Here in New Hampshire, we weathered the recent economic downturn better than many places. Slight adjustments to our current tax structure could easily pay for the cuts some say are "necessary."

Today in New Hampshire, it's the mentally ill, their families and those who care about them who are under attack. But if we let them get away with it this time, we'll see that this is just a start.

There are many things you can do to help, but they will win if you do nothing! Come to the Rally for New Hampshire at the State Capitol building in Concord from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 31. Write your senator and representatives. Make your voice heard — that New Hampshire should support all its citizens!

Ted Drummond, MD
Associate medical director
Seacoast Mental Health Center