Hundreds of advocates turned out in Annapolis on Wednesday to protest cuts to mental and behavioral health services. The rally came one day after Gov. Larry Hogan laid out his plan to combat the state’s heroin crisis, and mental health advocates lined up in front of the statehouse to say the governor’s proposed cuts in mental health services will harm those struggling with addiction and mental illness.
“We know that treatment works, says Dan Martin, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maryland. “Maryland has an access problem in the private system, in the public system, through our crisis system, and cutting funding to behavioral health system is just going to reduce access even more and make it more difficult for people to get the treatment that they need.”
Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed budget includes more than $20 million in cuts to mental health services and Medicaid providers. The proposed cuts come on top of mental health reductions the state’s Board of Public Works approved before former Gov. Martin O’Malley left office in January.
"One in five children and youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder," said Ann Geddes, director of public policy for the Maryland Coalition of Families for Children's Mental Health. "Budget cutbacks are making it harder for these kids to get access to child psychiatrists. Families have to travel for hours or wait for months to get an appointment."
Advocates took turns speaking to the crowd to tell their stories of living with mental illness and struggling to access mental health and substance abuse treatment.
A Cecil County man told the crowd he was tired of feeling invisible, that he was marginalized by hate as a transgender man and the stigma of mental illness. A transgender woman asked why she had to be poor because she had a mental illness.
Another man said he would have ended up back in jail if he didn’t have access to substance abuse treatment when he got out of prison. A former heroin user said she struggled to find psychotherapy when she was in crisis and trying to get sober.
Each story was punctuated with a chant imploring lawmakers to “keep the doors open” for mental and behavioral health care.
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery County, and Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-Eastern Shore, were among lawmakers who pledged to work to reverse the cuts. But re-instating the funding will be an uphill battle. Hogan’s budget makes deep cuts to Medicaid, public education and other programs in order to balance the state’s budget and adjust to projected shortfalls in revenue in the next fiscal year.