WASHINGTON — The partial government shutdown is having a particularly strong impact on the millions of Americans who deal with mental illness, ratcheting up anxieties and depression for those without income while endangering counseling centers that at some point may run out of funds.
More than 40 million Americas are affected by mental illness, with one in five diagnosed, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization.
“The government shutdown is impacting people beyond that one in five we know to live with a serious mental illness each year,” Lauren Simonds, the CEO of NAMI of Washington state, said in an interview.
“Once your job is taken away, your livelihood is taken away, your entertainment, you have to say no to your kids — this will have a much broader impact in the community on people’s mental health and well-being,” she said.
A variety of funds support mental health wellness programs, along with facilities that provide care and support. Much of that funding comes through the Department of Health and Human Services and in programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and various block grant dollars and funding not impacted by the partial shutdown.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also provides mental wellness care. The National Institute for Mental Health, which funds and conducts both basic and clinical research into the causes, treatments and prevention of mental illnesses, is also open.
A long-term government shutdown can rapidly drain resources, impeding the ability to acquire medication and receive therapy helpful for mental health wellness, analysts said. Such lapses can exacerbate festering anxiety of being out of control, analysts said.
Federal support was already limited before the partial shutdown, caused by Congress and the White House at odds over $5 billion President Donald Trump is seeking for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
New federal funding that supports mental health and some related wellness programs appears to be stymied because of the shutdown.
For example, lawmakers in both parties have committed to boosting mental-health and addiction treatment to address the opioid epidemic, but new funding for the behavioral-health clinics initiative was not included in the $8.4 billion package Congress passed last October.
Taking away an already tenuous safety net — and adding more individuals needing help — makes the situation dire, Simonds and others said, with anxiety permeating staffs at mental wellness centers, as they feel stress from their own situations as well as from those they serve.