With the recent release of the $4.8 trillion dollar 2020 Budget Proposal, President Trump has advanced an agenda that includes steep cuts to programs that millions of Americans depend on each year. The potential gutting of these programs could result in far-reaching impact on the mental health and well-being of individuals who depend on these programs.
How Economic and Health Care Insecurity Impacts Mental Health
The potential programs that could be impacted by the 2020 Budget include student loan forgiveness for public service employees, programs that support affordable housing options, and programs that offer food assistance and Medicaid. These are programs that many individuals depend on for their most basic needs. If removed, the impact could potentially threaten their day-to-day lives in immediate and tangible ways. Moreover, for many individuals, living with the constant threat of the removal of these programs — irrespective of whether it happens or not — can result in a constant state of fear and uncertainty. Put simply: individuals who depend on these safety net programs are left to worry their safety net may be pulled from them.
In addition to the programs noted above, there are proposed cuts to after-school programs for students of low-income families, funding cuts to programs in rural and magnet schools, and funding cuts to programs that support homeless and migrant youth. These types of protective programs promote resilience among vulnerable youth; eliminating them could have deleterious effects on the well-being of youth across the country. Additionally, eliminating these programs can result in further stress on educators and school districts as they struggle to address the gaps in service resulting from these budget cuts.
Mental Health is Impacted When Supportive Government Programs are Eliminated
When funding for mental health programs and social services are cut, it serves to reinforce the stigma associated with mental health treatment. Mental health issues are health issues, and individuals deserve the ability to seek services that will contribute to their overall well-being. Moreover, when individuals don’t have access to things like food stamps and secure and affordable housing, they likely have less of an opportunity to care for their mental health needs. When a person is concerned about where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep at night, addressing these needs often takes precedence over other important well-being considerations, such as caring for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, concern about the ability to care for oneself and one’s family certainly can increase feelings of stress, anxiety, and increase one’s vulnerability for developing a mental health related concern.
For some individuals, like those who rely on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, years of their career have been devoted to serving as teachers, police officers, and other public servant positions with the understanding that such service would eventually cancel their remaining federal student loans. With the looming threat of the elimination of this program, individuals who have devoted their careers to service, often at the expense of potentially higher salaried jobs and professions, now face the reality that they may have entered into an agreement that won’t hold up when it is time for them to collect on their effort. It is common for those individuals who are concerned about student loan payments to experience an increase in stress, hopelessness, and other mental health related symptoms. Financial stress related to the often crushing pressure of student loan debt can negatively impact one’s mental health.
What Does a Budget Prioritizing Mental Well-Being Look Like?
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” There is often a wide-spread, stigmatizing, and damaging myth that those who access government benefits do so because they are lazy, unmotivated, or uninterested in caring for their needs without government assistance. Not only is this a myth, but this sort of punch-down attitude to those who are economically disadvantaged serves to effectively blame the individual for the disadvantage, instead of exploring the systematic and institutional factors that often contribute to it.
A budget that prioritizes mental health care would provide equal opportunity for all Americans to access needed support while maintaining their dignity. Instead of cuts to life-sustaining programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps, efforts need to be made to increase access to these programs to make sure that those who need them are given the opportunity to access them. Instead of funding cuts to public service loan forgiveness programs, efforts need to be made to expand loan forgiveness programs that reward those who contribute to their communities in meaningful ways. Instead of eliminating after school programs, these programs should be expanded and would include targeted efforts to promote the mental health and resilience of students involved in them.
How to Cope if You’re Feeling Stressed About The Proposed Budget Cuts
The thought of the long term consequences of these proposed budget cuts can be anxiety-provoking and stressful. The following suggestions may help you cope with your feelings of stress:
Take care of yourself
- Talk to someone: Dealing with the prospect of losing supportive government benefits and services can be overwhelming. Consider reaching out for support from friends, family, or a mental health professional.
- Focus on caring for yourself now: In light of the potential cuts to healthcare, consider how you can proactively address medical care needs now. For example, schedule a physical exam, visit the dentist, the eye doctor — take care of any potential medical conditions now. If your healthcare plan includes it, consider seeking mental health services to help address any stress or concerns that you might be experiencing.
- Make a plan: If you think you might be impacted by a proposed cut in the the 2020 Budget Proposal, it can be helpful to explore other options that might off-set this loss. For example, if you’re concerned about the viability of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program; perhaps there are other loan forgiveness programs for which you may qualify or lower-financing options that can ease the financial burden by lowering your monthly payments.
- Call your elected officials: Your elected officials work for you and they need to hear what’s important in your life. Making telephone calls and writing letters to your elected officials to share why public safety net programs are important to you and your community is a great way to ensure your voice is heard.
- Check your voter registration status: The best way to effect change is exercise your right to vote. Be sure your voter registration status is up-to-date by checking here.
Lastly, if you’re in a position of privilege, consider how you can advocate for marginalized populations and communities. Connect with on-the-ground community-based organizations to determine how you can best support their advocacy work.