Mental Health Advocates Rally for Funds and Alcohol Tax


ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 21, 2010) - More than 300 health providers, policy makers, and citizens concerned or affected by mental illness rallied on Lawyer's Mall Wednesday afternoon protesting any further cuts in the mental health budget and supporting a bill that would tax alcohol to benefit mental health causes.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lost $56 million over the past 13 months, causing more than 100 job losses and affecting services for many people with mental illness, said Herb Cromwell, executive director of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland.

"How many people with heart problems don't get treatment? Not many. How many people with cancer don't get treatment? Not many," said Rich Bayer, CEO of Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services in Elkton. "But in mental health ... 80 percent of children don't get treatment. Most adults don't get treatment."

The governor's proposed 2011 budget, released Wednesday morning, includes an increase of 9.4 percent in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's funding to approximately $8.9 billion. Mental health services are also funded on a smaller scale from other sources.

The governor proposed cutting 37.6 jobs in his budget.

One in five Americans, more than one million Marylanders, live with a diagnosable disorder, according to the 1outta5 campaign run by the organizer of the rally, the Maryland Mental Health Coalition.

The coalition is a conglomerate of various mental health services and advocacy groups, professionals, and individuals supporting more mental health funding.

One way the coalition wants to receive more funding is the "10 cents makes sense" bill. Advocates wore pins with the 10 cents mantra indicating their enthusiasm for the bill that would tax each alcoholic drink an additional 10 cents.

The proceeds of the tax would go towards expanding health care, as well as increasing funding for substance abuse treatment and prevention and developmental disabilities support. Proceeds might also go into the state's general fund.

"(The tax is) absolutely reasonable in the end," said Susan Tate, a volunteer at the Silver Spring Drop Center where people with mental disabilities can gain life-skills, socialize, and receive other kinds of support. "Because if you cut money to community services then people start falling through the net and then they end up in the ER or hospitals or prison, and in the long term that's more expensive."

Montgomery County legislators Sen. Richard Madaleno, Jr. and Del. William Bronrott spoke at the rally along with several colleagues, and emphasized that "10 cents makes sense."

For many at the protest, there was a personal message as well - mental illness is not something to be ashamed of and people can recover.

"I heard someone speaking earlier say, `we need to take the mental away from health. We need to focus on health because it is a health issue,'" said Patricia Folk, a board member of Bayer's organization. "And we all need to be seeing it as a health issue."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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