Chris Kennedy believes we need to remove the stigma mental health patients face that can serve as a barrier to receiving treatment. Chris knows firsthand the struggles that families face when a loved one suffers from mental illness. Mental health care is just as vital and necessary a treatment as an insulin shot or a cast for a broken bone. Those with a mental illness should not be made to feel ashamed or be silenced by fear of social or professional repercussions.
Illinois needs to demonstrate comprehensive support for mental health care, which has been gutted under Governor Rauner. Even before the budget impasse, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that more than half of service providers in the state said they are unable to meet their patients’ needs and an estimated one million residents who require mental health services went without treatment.
In Illinois, we need to protect Medicaid and pursue more federal resources to fund mental health services. We need to support community-based care over costly, less effective institutional care; and we need to provide clear guidance on mental health coverage so providers don’t deny necessary and available care for mental health services. Illinois can also provide better mental health support through integrated care among our social service programs and public institutions, such as early intervention programming in schools or through collaborative programming between mental health care providers substance abuse treatment centers.
Chris recognizes that the inability of mental health providers to meet patient demand results in more people becoming homeless or landing in the prison system, which can be prevented through better care. The fact is, Cook County Jail has become Illinois’ largest mental health provider. Our state’s failure to treat mental illness arguably creates more fiscal damage in the long run because we are incarcerating more people at a high cost – estimated to be more than $33,000 per prison per year. We should not be overcrowding our prison system with people who would be better served through mental health treatment.