Arizona mental health investigative series recognized

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News from Arizona

The Associated Press Managers Association awarded the Arizona Daily Star with its annual Public Services Award for its investigative series into the state’s services for people with mental disabilities, amid the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner, an individual with a variety of mental illnesses.

The four-day series, titled “Barriers to Mental Health,”  ran from April 17-20. Three news reporters, Carol Ann Alaimo, Tim Steller and Stephanie Innes, as well as editorial writer Sarah Garrecht Gassen, detailed the people in Arizona encounter when attempting to receive proper services to assist with their mental disabilities.

“It’s a conflicted picture, because the potential for what a person can do with the right balance of therapy, medication and individual support runs smack into the reality of what a person can do within the constraints of limited insurance coverage, social stigma and a public-health system that shortchanges thousands,” wrote the newspaper’s editorial board.

The series analyzes the stigmas of mental health that deter people from receiving treatment, such as fears that they will be institutionalized like they have in prior generations and widespread prejudice and fear, despite the fact that rates of violent crime for people with mental disabilities is rare.

Alaimo described her childhood as the daughter of a mother with mental illness who married three men with other mental disabilities. She ponders how her mother’s life may have been different had she received proper treatment.

“She missed out on this joy of deep connection,” Alaimo wrote. “I put myself in her shoes and wonder: What would it be like to have kids you couldn’t nurture? To have a chemical imbalance in your brain and be made to feel ashamed of it?”

Despite having one of the “best, most progressive laws,” for widespread services for people with mental disabilities, Arizona’s system has rarely lived up to its promise.

The state jails or imprisons nine times more people with severe mental illness than it hospitalizes, the second worst rate in the nation, according to statistics cited by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center.

In recent years, Arizona has cuts case management services and providing name-brand drugs for 28,000 low-income Arizonians who didn’t qualify for Medicaid. As a result, people in poverty often receive better services than those who are not, creating perverse incentives deterring people not to work so they receive mental health treatment.

For one woman profiled in the series, the system was so twisted that her eligibility for Social Security disability benefits, due to not being able to participate in the workforce, made her ineligible for Medicaid and therefore, services to help assist her with living with her mental disability.

She eventually killed herself.

Associated Press Managers Association consists of editors from the AP’s 1,400 member papers in the United States and by the Canadian Press in Canada