Americans are experiencing the best economy “EVER,” tweets President Donald Trump. The president’s tendency to selectively take good economic data and widely exaggerate it on Twitter has become his favorite pastime, well, besides playing golf at one of his many resorts.
Since there is only so much hope and hype he can blow up the asses of the bottom 90 percent of Americans until the next economic slowdown, it seems as the structural decay of America’s middle class is full steam ahead.
Take, for instance, Montana, the western state defined by its mountainous terrain ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, now has the highest per capita suicide rate in the country — and limited resources to take on the crisis, reported NBC News.
It is a statistic that many Montanans are familiar with, but based on new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 residents have been reported, sending the state’s suicide rate up 38 percent in the last two decades — and exceeds the national average of 13.5 by a large margin.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, the rural state is dealing with a massive shortage of mental health providers. Federal officials said the state has less than 25 percent of the needed mental health personnel to care for its million residents.
“We have a perfect storm when it comes to suicide,” said Karl Rosston, suicide prevention coordinator for Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, in an interview with NBC News. “We have a lot of factors that are all happening at the same time.”
With a projected $227 million budget shortfall, Montana’s Republican-led legislature and Democratic governor made significant cuts to the state’s health department in late 2017, including funding for mental health. As a result of the budget cuts and a major policy error, more than 100 mental health professionals were fired, according to the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana.
Since the cut, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that Montana’s mental health budget is severely lagging behind many comparable states.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s office announced plans in the first half of 2018 to restore mental health funding for Medicaid reimbursements and partially restore Medicaid case manager funds, said NBC News. The governor’s office said that those plans, including details on restoration amounts, will be made public in early September.
“Governor Bullock remains committed to fighting for Montanans and the essential services they deserve,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “He will again propose a budget that invests in mental health and ensures vulnerable Montanans have the health care they need. He will continue to engage in statewide partnerships to implement evidence-based programs aimed at reducing suicide in Montana.”
NBC News pointed out that Bullock’s about-face could be a little too late. Mental health care providers said, “it would take years to reopen shuttered clinics and regain the community’s trust.”
In the meantime, with the lack of funding to tackle the public health crisis, Montana’s suicides continue to climb.
“In Montana there’s a huge amount of stigma that surrounds mental health,” Fantozzi told Daily Mail in a phone interview. “It’s hard for people to reach out for help and there’s not a lot of knowledge in the general community about what mental health is so we’re really pushing to raise awareness.”
She said the town had a clinic run by the nonprofit Western Montana Mental Health Center, the largest healthcare provider in the region, which had 12 clinics serving 15,000 clients. But, after the cuts in 2017, the center closed — firing more than 60 case managers, including the one in Libby. Fantozzi warned that hundreds of patients with severe mental health disorders were left without access to therapy, medication and or a case manager.
“It’s just hard,” Fantozzi said. “Everybody is overworked. It’s hard to add one more thing on to their plate.”
Recently, more than a dozen Lincoln County health officials, law enforcement officers, teachers, community leaders and medical providers held an emergency meeting at Libby’s high school to discuss how to fill the gap left by the budget cuts. Some officials said the city government should create a list of who may be at risk of suicide and deploy case manager volunteers.
“We can’t wait for funding,” said Liz Erickson, who provides faith-based counseling through the Libby Christian Church. “We cannot wait for the grant. We cannot wait for that help. We just have to start the dang thing ourselves.”
While it seems President Trump is only concerned about the stock market, the structural decay of America’s heartland continues. As Montana finds out the hard way that cutting mental health funding has created conditions for the “perfect storm” of suicides.