To the Hennepin County Commisioners, as you consider the proposed cuts to the County’s mental health services, my name is Pete Feigal and I’m president of the Hennepin county affiliate of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. I’m a national speaker and writer on the personal experience of living with disability. I’ve worked for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, training police on mental illness calls, and for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, representing people with disabilities. As a mental health consumer of 30 years, 20 of those spent in Hennepin county, I am living proof that the money spent on mental health services is absolutely essential.
Without these programs, I would not have worked with the CDC. I would have slipped between the cracks and would have been lost to the street, the state hospital, the penitentiary or the graveyard.
I have a politically correct illness of my central nervous system, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which attacks my body, resulting in the crippling of my legs and the blinding of my eyes. And I have a Apolitically incorrect@ illness of my brain, major depression, which attacks not just my brain but my soul, resulting in loneliness and despair.
By having programs and professionals we can reach out to without fear of judgment, we can often avoid the costly crises that too often come as part of these diseases. Costly measured in terms of money, but also measured in human suffering, something that cannot be put on a pie chart or a financial sheet. And measured, even, by our very lives.
The proposed cuts are the proverbial Apenny wise and pound foolish. By spending a dollar now in prevention and recovery, we will save 10 dollars down the road and weeks of empowering assistance when we are in crisis. The Walk-In Counseling Center is cheaper than one terrible night of trauma at the ER.
These mental heath programs are vital because mental illnesses are still treated differently than other illnesses. Because of the complexity of the brain and the depths of the human heart and soul, mental illnesses and brain disorders are still shrouded in mystery and dread and receive only a tiny fraction of the private monies raised for breast cancer or MS.
There is still unequal coverage by the insurance companies and HMO’s. They are still the only illnesses in Minnesota not covered by the Health Department, but by the Department of Human Services, which also covers dog catching and snow removal.
We no longer enslave other humans or make them sit at the back of the bus, we no longer deny women the right to vote, but we still treat people with mental illness as second-class citizens. We still make them Asit at the back of the bus when it comes to programs and help.
How the mentally ill are treated is still one of the last, evil bastions of unaddressed discrimination and prejudice in America. The rest of the state watches and studies the choices you make here in Hennepin county, and if you cut these programs, I’m afraid of the message it will send. I’m afraid it will damage the most important ingredient necessary for recovery from these terrible chronic illnesses: hope.
We, with these biochemical brain disorders, seldom get a fair word or a fair fight; we judge victory not by what we’ve been given, but by what we haven’t had taken away, so we thank you for the chance to address you. And we ask you: please don’t diminish or destroy these essential programs. Keeping them is the financially smart thing to do. And it is the right and courageous thing to do.