Thursday, January 6, 2011

Victimless Budget Cuts? We Don't Think So.

Originally, we were all set today to write our commentary on how states are making less than intelligent budget decisions - especially with respect to schools - and what many of them could and should do this year, with regards to their budgets.

Then, a seventeen year old kid in Omaha shot his principal and killed his assistant principal and himself, and we thought there was something much more important to discuss today.

Most modern Americans either know the science, or they've heard the stories in the media that tell us all about how sunlight can help our moods, and how in the wintertime, people can get more depressed. 

Most Americans also blow off taking care of their mental health.

"I'm fine," they say. "It's just a bad day." Or, "I'm just not feeling like myself today." This can go on for months. They let bills lapse. They pay their rent or mortgage late - or not at all. They don't call as much, or e-mail as much, and they tend to stay inside more.

Particularly for those of us in colder climates, we sometimes just chalk those actions up to the season. We write it off as being the "winter blues", and let it go when others pull away, or we find ourselves doing the same thing. Mental illness doesn't just appear in the wintertime or only in cold climates, though. It also usually doesn't happen overnight.

We didn't know the young man who ended up taking his life in Omaha on Wednesday, and we don't know either of his victims.

What we do know was that what you may have heard on the news about him may have been true: that he appeared to be a wonderful kid, and that no one could have foreseen that he would have acted in such a destructive and pointless manner.

Most people with mental illness look no different than anyone else. It's not like they turn green, or have a flashing sign appear over their head that says "Freak!". They're so-called "normal" people, just like you and me. They're ill and need help to get healthy, just as if they had the flu, or a staph infection, or a sports injury.

If there is any confluence of ideas between what we were originally going to write about today and the topic that our attention has now been drawn to, it's this:  continuing to cut the budgets of schools, at any level, or to attempt to put them through some insane managerial "cost-saving" change isn't the victimless crime so many bean counters profess it to be.

Maybe that young man's life could have been saved if his school had better - and more - counselors with professional mental health training. Maybe if his teachers and coaches had more manageable work loads, they'd have noticed his plight. Maybe if his parents, neighbors, and family weren't working multiple jobs just to survive, they'd have noticed also.

When the political talking heads say the consequences of budget cuts to institutions like schools are hard, but something we can all live with, we vehemently disagree with them on that.

Not everyone will be living with the consequences.

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