Eye On Illinois: Voters show commitment to community mental health


A good year for mental health advocacy got better last week as voters in a few parts of Illinois – including all of Will County – approved referenda creating local boards to raise and distribute money to improve care offerings.

These bodies aren’t new to Illinois. The Association of Community Mental Health Authorities of Illinois itself is 50 years old. Its website (acmhai.org) said the majority of its members are, like the ones voters created via referendum, “known as ‘708′ boards governed by the Illinois Community Mental Health Act and are accountable at the local level to the citizens of our communities.”

For boards created at the township level, a supervisor will appoint members. At the county level, a board chairman or county executive compiles the slate. In either case board members must have professional or community connections to medical and mental health fields, including developmental disabilities and substance abuse.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

The accountability, per AMCHAI’s statement, comes through understanding the appointed board members can only make recommendation for levies or spending. Those decisions continue to rest with the elected government. But having an appointed expert panel takes the burden of direct work off the shoulders of officials with broader responsibilities and allows for targeted funding to address a specific concern.

In the big picture, it also offers an easy response to the recurring talking point “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about mental health?” Or, as one of my readers demanded after I wrote about the Independence Day tragedy in Highland Park, “Put a twist on your liberal articles and try to get liberals to grow an extra brain cell and inform them that MORE mental health care is the answer!”

Improving availability of and access to mental health care is an Eye On Illinois hobby horse. This year alone we’ve looked at the new Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative, fully funding Pathways to Success (also a children’s program), the First Responder Behavioral Health Grant Fund and minimum mental health screening standards through the Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.

There’s proposals to help local governments and public universities provide resources to inmates through the Mental Health and Substance Use Prevention Fund, a child care grant supporting providers that expand after-hours and nightly child care for families of first responders and other late-shift workers, pairing social workers and mental health professionals with police when appropriate and a law making it easier for out-of-state mental health professionals to be licensed in Illinois and for those with lapsed licenses to pursue reinstatement.

Voters who approved creating these boards clearly understand how mental health, though an individual struggle, is a community issue. Their willingness to directly address the challenge should inspire others seeking to make a difference.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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November 15, 2022 at 05:16AM

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