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Mental health services in Virginia continue to take center stage

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In a recent report by the Richmond Times Dispatch, the list of available psychiatric beds at public and private hospitals was delayed by budget cuts and “other priorities,” shining an even brighter spotlight on Virginia’s mental health system and the budgetary problems that have undermined its effectiveness.

In June 2012, the commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, James W. Stewart III, stated that the software needed to run the Virginia Acute Psychiatric and CSB Bed Registry “is completed,” paving the way for a Web registry for psychiatric beds at public and private hospitals in addition to units run by local community services boards.

Virginia’s mental health system has been given greater public attention following the suicide of Virginia Sen. Creigh Deeds’ son, Austin C. “Gus” Deeds. After being admitted into emergency custody, Gus Deeds was released after no psychiatric bed could be located for him. That is, another death that could have easily been prevented became another unfortunate consequence of the Republican Party’s ceaseless efforts to ‘slash’ budget deficits in Virginia and throughout the country.

While no political party is guilt free, the Republican Party’s ideological insistence on “balancing the budget” and individual responsibility have left it either unwilling or incapable of dealing appropriately with mental health services. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of
Americans ages 18 and older have a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. The problem of mental health in the U.S. is not going away, in other words. And as long as individuals and groups neglect to hold the Republican Party accountable for its inaction or counter-actions regarding mental health services, mental health problems will not decrease and may even grow with time.

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