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 3, 2021.
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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