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Cook Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Kevin Mor­ri­son: Now is the Time for Trans­for­ma­tive Invest­ments in Men­tal Health Care

Kevin Mor­ri­son, Cook Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er for the 15th Dis­trict, and Grace Hong Duf­fin, Pres­i­dent & CEO of Ken­neth Young Cen­ter, share the need for trans­for­ma­tive invest­ment in men­tal health care. This piece was pub­lished in the Dai­ly Her­ald on Octo­ber 32021.

By Kevin Mor­ri­son and Grace Hong Duffin

Now more than ever, we need to make trans­for­ma­tive invest­ments in men­tal health care.

Too many peo­ple live with a men­tal health dis­or­der but can’t access afford­able care, leav­ing them to strug­gle and suf­fer alone — or end up in jail.

In Illi­nois, the Cook Coun­ty Jail is the largest facil­i­ty hous­ing peo­ple with men­tal health dis­or­ders — and it’s one of the largest in the coun­try. Today, near­ly half of those incar­cer­at­ed at the jail suf­fer from some form of men­tal illness.

Across the state, only 46.4% of adults with men­tal ill­ness receive any men­tal health treat­ment. And in June of 2020, 40% of U.S. adults report­ed strug­gling with men­tal health or sub­stance use, while 11% of adults seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered suicide.

These jaw-drop­ping num­bers under­score the urgent need for gov­ern­ments to invest in men­tal health ser­vices. For too long, too many peo­ple have ignored their men­tal ill­ness­es because they could­n’t afford to see a ther­a­pist, get treat­ment for addic­tion or access crit­i­cal medication.

We can tru­ly bounce back from this pan­dem­ic and come out stronger. But we must pri­or­i­tize fund­ing men­tal health care and ensure that every res­i­dent — no mat­ter their ZIP code, income, race or oth­er mar­gin­al­ized iden­ti­ty — is able to get the help they des­per­ate­ly need.

In Elk Grove Vil­lage, Ken­neth Young Cen­ter has expe­ri­enced a 36% increase in the num­ber of youths and adults seek­ing care from before the pan­dem­ic to now — and that num­ber will grow as young peo­ple return to schools.

While the pan­dem­ic has cre­at­ed safe spaces for many to express their men­tal health con­cerns, sky­rock­et­ing need and lim­it­ed fund­ing to pro­vide ser­vices deep­ens the eco­nom­ic strug­gle for com­mu­ni­ty men­tal health agen­cies to respond.

State and fed­er­al fund­ing is essen­tial to the work Ken­neth Young Cen­ter does — so is the sup­port from town­ships, indi­vid­ual donors and pri­vate foundations.

But even with this vital help, it’s not enough.

There are still deep divi­sions between the ser­vices avail­able to indi­vid­u­als with means and those from low­er-income house­holds. Each year, Ken­neth Young Cen­ter pro­vides more than half a mil­lion dol­lars in psy­chi­a­try ser­vices. These ser­vices pro­vide crit­i­cal med­ical care to clients in need of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal inter­ven­tions to help peo­ple work toward recovery.

But for those on Med­ic­aid, psy­chi­a­try ser­vices are poor­ly reim­bursed. Reim­burse­ment rates for men­tal health ser­vices remain stag­nant and are often low­er than the cost to pro­vide care, cre­at­ing unten­able finan­cial chal­lenges for men­tal health providers, leav­ing needs unmet and long wait lists for care.

As we come out of the pan­dem­ic, it’s crit­i­cal that we rec­og­nize the health­care imper­a­tive to increas­ing access to men­tal health ser­vices for all — pre­vent­ing cri­sis, sui­cide attempts and death by sui­cide, which is the 10th lead­ing cause of death for Americans.

Let us be clear: Now is the time to take bold action.

In Cook Coun­ty, we have a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion oppor­tu­ni­ty to make real, trans­for­ma­tive invest­ments in men­tal health care. Through the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan Act — which Pres­i­dent Biden signed in March — Cook Coun­ty will direct­ly receive over $1 bil­lion dol­lars from the fed­er­al government.

These dol­lars can be used to build long-term trans­for­ma­tive ini­tia­tives — and we strong­ly believe increas­ing access to men­tal health ser­vices in Cook Coun­ty should be a top pri­or­i­ty in the months and years ahead.

Too many peo­ple are at risk and need help. We must give men­tal health care the atten­tion it deserves, end the stig­ma around seek­ing men­tal health treat­ment and ensure that every­one in Cook Coun­ty has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to thrive.

We can do this by mak­ing bold invest­ments in men­tal health services.

With near­ly one in five adults liv­ing with a men­tal health chal­lenge, every­one has a friend or fam­i­ly mem­ber affect­ed by a men­tal health dis­or­der — whether they know it or not. Now is the time to address this prob­lem head on and achieve mean­ing­ful progress.

Kevin Mor­ri­son is the Cook Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er for the 15th Dis­trict. Grace Hong Duf­fin is Pres­i­dent and CEO of Ken­neth Young Center.

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Kenneth Young Center advocates for community members by partnering with policy makers and officials to prioritize mental health care. This piece highlights just some of this work, and we're honored to share it as part of our #KYC50For50 campaign, a special celebrations of 50 stories, events, and articles we're sharing during our 50th year of service.

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