Twelve days after Jared Lee Loughner shot his way into the American psyche outside a Tuscon, Ariz., grocery store on Jan. 8, a 25-year-old mental health counselor in Revere was kidnapped from a group home and savagely killed, allegedly by one of her clients. Nine days later, it happened again when a homeless 19-year-old with a history of mental problems reportedly stabbed a shelter worker to death in Lowell, just 30 miles away.
No one can say for sure whether either murder had anything to do with funding cutbacks that have decimated the state’s mental health budget, but on the front lines in the war on mental illness, counselors are concerned.
“If you have one woman (counselor) and five men with mental health problems, it screams to me of mental health cuts,” Barry Sanders, a social worker for more than 20 years, says of the group home north of Boston where Stephanie Moulton was working when she was kidnapped and killed on January 20. “Having these kinds of staffing levels is like playing the odds, rolling the dice with someone’s life.”
Across Massachusetts, mental health agencies are feeling the strain of cutbacks that have ripped nearly $85 million from the state’s Department of Mental Health budget since 2009.
“It’s been devastation. Complete and utter destruction and devastation. The entire mental health system is shredded,says Laurie Martinelli, executive director with the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health advocacy and research group.
Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Commissioner Barbara Leadholm takes a more diplomatic stance.