As it turns out, Laura Lawless’ timing is perfect.
The Tempe resident is using the cachet that came along with her Miss Arizona title to dispel myths and stereotypes about people who are clinically depressed.
Her mission is about to become far more difficult because the number of people who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses is about to become far greater.
That is, unless matters change dramatically under the copper dome.
State lawmakers have recommended a budget for fiscal 2003-04 that would eliminate funding for treatment of thousands of mental illness patients
Catherine Eden, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, termed the hatchet job “extremely harmful” in a Jan. 29 letter to Gov. Janet Napolitano.
The proposed budget includes a $3 million reduction from the General Fund that would cause 380 people with serious mental illnesses to lose their behavioral health services.
The budget proposal also includes a $10.8 million reduction from the tobacco tax that would cause 5,400 people to lose their psychotropic medications.
“The social impact of this level of reduction would be immense,” Eden said in the letter. The cut would lead to increases in emergency services, hospitalization costs and homelessness.
Plus, tens of thousands of others would be turned away from related substance-abuse treatment programs and other crisis and education programs, some of which cater to the elderly and young.
The deep thinkers at the state Capitol are trying to figure out how to fix a projected $1 billion budget shortfall in fiscal 2003-04. So shafting the mentally ill remains an option.
Sandra Osborn, a Mesa resident, said that she is familiar with and encouraged by Lawless’ advocacy work. She also is familiar with and alarmed by the Legislature’s budget work.
Osborn, 35, suffers from a form of depression called bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness. The disorder is characterized by cyclical mood changes from severe mania to severe depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, which is based in Bethesda, Md. Either way, it affects thinking, judgment and social behavior.
Osborn said she receives state assistance that covers her $1,000-a-month prescription bills. With the medication, she is able to live on her own and work toward a high school equivalency diploma. She said she plans to pursue a college degree.
Without her medications, she hears voices, acts erratically and probably would need to be institutionalized to prevent her from harming herself or others, she said.
The proposed cuts simply are not well thought out, Osborn said.
“I just want to know if they have the money to build extra hospitals to put us in for the rest of our lives, because that’s where some of us will be,” she said.
The other option is casting thousands of people who are angry, suicidal and paranoid to the streets. Even Miss Arizona would have a hard time making that look pretty.