In March 2020, during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Memorial Behavioral Health established a free emotional support hotline open to all local residents. What was originally intended as a short-term crisis response has continued, along with the pandemic, for two years. As of last week, that hotline has fielded just under 3,000 calls from individuals struggling with anxiety, grief, depression and other emotions sparked by life changes and loss.
There’s no question that the past few years have taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. Emerging research shows how people young and old, across the spectrum of our society, have experienced rising rates of social isolation, depression, drug and alcohol use and even suicide.
Sadly, the pandemic has worsened an existing crisis in the behavioral health field. Even before 2020, there were simply not enough providers to meet the demand in communities across Illinois, especially for our most vulnerable residents and those living in rural areas.
Today, the situation is even worse. Organizations like Memorial Behavioral Health, where I serve as president, are facing daunting caseloads and growing demand for our community outreach and crisis programs.
Gov. JB Pritzker’s fiscal year 2023 budget plan, which is currently before the General Assembly, includes several key measures aimed at increasing access to mental health services statewide. These strategies are intended to make it easier for organizations to hire and retain compassionate, skilled mental health providers. More robust funding for these services means that more Illinoisans will be able to get the help they need.
These measures include the Rebuild Illinois Mental Health Workforce Act, which would put $180 million — including federal Medicaid funds — toward hiring new community mental health care providers. The organizations that employ these providers often have long waitlists or lack the staffing to fully address the need in their communities. Unfortunately, this can mean that individuals with mental health concerns, particularly Medicaid recipients, can end up hospitalized or in local jails rather than accessing treatment and case management services.
I’m encouraged by the bipartisan support that the Rebuild Illinois Mental Health Workforce Act and other mental health measures in the proposed budget have received. My hope is that our lawmakers remember the importance of this need and continue to prioritize mental health funding as the negotiations continue.
Many of the callers to our Memorial Behavioral Health emotional support hotline have required additional help beyond a simple phone call. We’ve been encouraged by our success in connecting these individuals with the mental health care they need to improve their quality of life.
But we know that many people across Illinois aren’t so lucky, and continue to wait for the opportunity to access the services they desperately need. I urge our lawmakers to make mental health funding a priority in next year’s budget. By doing so, they can transform the lives of thousands of fellow Illinoisans and help build stronger, healthier, more vibrant communities.
Diana Knaebe is president of Memorial Behavioral Health. She has more than three decades of experience in the mental health field, including roles as the director of the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and president and CEO of Heritage Behavioral Health in Decatur.
via The State Journal-Register
April 1, 2022 at 06:32PM