Our economy is sick. Some sectors are bleeding profusely. Before major hemorrhaging drowns all of us, serious introspection, brainstorming, and planning must occur. No more quick fixes, “let’s try this and see if it works” approaches.
We need to ask ourselves, will the measures we are now attempting to employ actually result in a true correction of the situation. Will the present actions end up with worsening long-term consequences?
In order to put a face on the problems at hand I have selected the nonprofit services in our area, primarily those in the mental health field. For some time now, these agencies have been, and continue to be, subject to on-going staff layoffs, one round after another. The ramifications of this action are huge and far-reaching.
People with mental health issues can, and do, function as wonderful and productive members of society — if they have trained help to assist them in maintaining a healthful lifestyle. Usually, in order for this to happen, they need to have consistent counseling by highly trained professionals. Many times, a vital adjunct to counseling is medication. It is imperative that these medications are taken as prescribed (not skipped), the recipients monitored to assure this, and timely reviews made to ascertain whether or not the medications are doing their job. This is yet another responsibility of our overworked counselors.
Think for a minute of the far-reaching ramifications that can kick in when a number of these dedicated counselors are laid off and in agencies that have been understaffed for several years.
First, the clients are robbed of their human dignity. Without counseling and proper medication, these troubled individuals become deeply depressed. Their self-worth plummets. In this state of mind, instead of being productive members of society, they may exhibit bizarre behavior, such as harming themselves, committing suicide, or striking out at whoever happens to be in their path.
Second, consider the few counselors left. These seriously overworked people are amazing in the work they do, but they are human and do have a breaking point. If they are stressed beyond human endurance, they may not always perform accurately. Or, perhaps they will simply quit, adding to the already short-staffed facilities.
Third, if professional help is no longer available, what alternatives do the mentally ill have? They are already filling our jails and our shelters, adding to current tax responsibilities. It doesn’t make sense to cut off funding vital services for our most vulnerable residents and then house them in inappropriate settings, while increasing the budgets of our jails and shelters, with minimum, or no, professional services in the area of their needs.
Fourth, if there is no guidance for those with mental issues, they may end up roaming the streets and the crime rate will escalate. Or, perhaps we are willing to spend more tax dollars to hire additional law enforcement.
Fifth, we are not living in some Third World country where human worth is of no, or little, value. According to our Founding Fathers, all of our citizens have the right to a dignified life with equal opportunities to live up to our highest potential. In order for this to happen, some of us need a hand up. Interestingly, we never know when we, or a loved one, may be that person. If this should happen, and professional assistance is needed, where will we turn if all of our facilities have either closed their doors or are not taking new clients?
During World War II, all of us were proud to sacrifice for the good of our country and our military abroad. We did it with a smile on our faces. We can do it again if we are mature enough to see that our world is not “all about me.”
How many politicians have we heard promise “no new taxes” and, because of some urgent need, that stance has gone out the window? Well, we do have an urgent need and it’s right on our plate — here and now. If no other immediate solutions are found, would you and I suffer horrendously if, temporarily, our sales tax were raised a penny or two and some of that extra money used to get our nonprofit services back on their feet? Would Hollywood Slots, the theaters, the fancy coffee venues, and the soft drink businesses be forced to close their doors?
If all of us work together toward a true solution, the consequences could be that the most vulnerable among us would get a chance to function with dignity, not be relegated to our human trash pile.
Barbara Cameron is a retired teacher, secretary and librarian who lives in Brewer.