While I applaud the intent of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s effort to “grade” the 50 states in the U.S. on their mental health care, the problem with such reports is that they are out-of-date and virtually useless from the moment they are published.

The problem with the report isn’t its data gathering methods or purpose, both of which are solid and noble. The problem is that in the amount of time it takes to gather the data, analyze it, and publish it, the data is already out of date. To see how out of date, you only have to look and see that the last report was published 3 years ago. Hardly timely.

In my home state, Massachusetts, it received a B, up from the C- it received in 2006, and much better than the national average of D. What the report doesn’t mention is how much has changed since the data was gathered over the summer of 2008 — the economy has tanked, state budgets have gone significantly into the red, and most states have resorted to cutting (or looking to cut) social services.

The first service always to suffer state cutbacks? You’re right, mental health.

In Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe, the cuts forced the state to eliminate supported employment and outpatient day treatment, and cut jail diversion programs and clubhouses across the state. Which suggests that if the report were done today, Massachusetts would likely not be receiving a B.

Besides the fact that many states have already suffered from such cutbacks not noted in the report, you have to ask what benefit it is to see the same grade for the nation year after year. Mental health services in the U.S. as a whole are not going to suddenly change unless the federal government steps up and starts funding them. With an initiative on the order of JFK’s commitment to community mental health in the 1960s. And as you can see, that type of commitment hasn’t occurred for nearly 40 years.

If that were to happen, you’d learn of it far sooner than a once-every-few-years report from NAMI.

Read the report: Grading the States — 2009