October is an often-romanticized month. There’s a strong aura of coziness and memories of sipping apple cider at the pumpkin patch with loved ones. But in addition to appreciating October’s charms, we can’t forget that it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, too).
Sadly, we North Carolinians must recognize—both this month and every month of the year—that our home state is a bit of a hot spot for Domestic Violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there are more than 70 incidences of domestic violence homicides in NC each year. In fact, North Carolina has frequently been ranked among the top ten states for homicide rates for females murdered by males. If you think that sounds bad, it only gets worse; domestic violence extends far beyond the reported cases of homicides. The term encompasses willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, and sexual assault, and its frequency and severity can vary extensively. It affects our children’s classmates, our peers, and countless members of our communities.
There are several ongoing initiatives to combat domestic violence in North Carolina, and at large. However, one issue that seems to be commonly neglected in these initiatives (not due to a lack of competence, but rather a lack of resources) is the link between domestic violence and mental illness. The two form a sort of perverse symbiotic relationship. Mental illness can be a contributing factor in domestic violence cases, and domestic violence sometimes results in its victims suffering from mental illness. But cause and effect can be difficult to determine; statistics show that those suffering from mental illness are more susceptible to abuse.
If domestic violence rates are so clearly an issue here in North Carolina, then why has our mental healthcare resources been so drastically cut? There were widespread budget cuts for mental health care in 2009, with devastating results. Specifically, the cuts have translated into a loss of critical services including housing, Assertive Community Treatment, access to psychiatric medications and crisis services. In essence, the cuts made it even harder for the victims of domestic violence who may have developed mental illnesses and all other sufferers to recover. Fortunately, with larger than expected revenue growth between the 2011-2012 fiscal years, many states have increased mental healthcare budgets in 2012 in hopes of offsetting some of the damage that was done.
This was not the case in North Carolina. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the North Carolina mental healthcare budget alone was further cut by $48.2 million. This puts us in the midst of a mental healthcare crisis; eligibility for medical and mental health treatment via Medicaid is increasingly difficult to come by, with only the severely impoverished covered. State health care funding is essential to fill in the coverage gaps for others who could not otherwise afford mental health care. More or less, without appropriate funding, mental health care is quickly becoming a privilege only afforded to the wealthy.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services offers incentives for healthcare providers to work in rural areas, and serve patients who are low-income, uninsured, or on Medicaid. But it’s not enough to cure North Carolina’s insufficient resources and funding. Until we increase our budget for mental healthcare, then numerous Carolinians will continue to suffer. Particularly, the incredibly vulnerable victims of domestic violence, save perhaps those fortunate enough to have access to the personal wealth required for treatment, will not get the care they need to recover.