Illinois Democrats push for mental health legislation

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WMBD) — Amid the pandemic, mental health has taken center stage on the concerns of parents, teachers and lawmakers. Labor shortages have exacerbated the problems that make it difficult for sufferers to find treatment.

On Thursday morning, state lawmakers held a press conference in Springfield, arguing for two Senate bills to expand mental health services in Illinois.

State Senator Laura Fine (D-Glenview) is the Chair of the Mental and Behavioral Health Committee.

“For so many years, the stigma around mental health kept people from getting the care they needed,” Fine said.

She hopes to end this stigma.

“In Illinois, we want to make sure that mental health and physical health are considered one and the same,” she said, “because you really can’t have one without the other”.

Fine said one of the biggest barriers Illinois people face when seeking help is the shortage of mental health workers. There are only 14 providers per 10,000 Illinois residents, according to Fine.

“When you’re in crisis, a crisis can’t wait,” she said.

Labor shortages have further exacerbated this problem, Fine said.

Senate Bill 3617that Fine introduced, aims to develop the health workforce.

State Senator Meg Loughran Cappel (D- Shorewood) said she sponsors Senate Bill 3889which would “create a council within the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership.”

“Staying mentally healthy should have the same priority as staying physically fit,” Cappel said.

At Thursday morning’s press conference, Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) was asked what he’s doing to address mental health issues in Peoria.

“We definitely see that happening in Peoria,” Koehler said. “When you have someone coming into the ER and there’s no place to put them because of understaffing or lack of space to sleep, it doesn’t matter. This becomes an immediate crisis for this family.

“I think we haven’t taken mental health and behavioral health too seriously because we don’t see it as obvious as we see physical health,” Koehler continued.

Koehler said he supports the proposed legislation.

“There is a proposal in Peoria right now for UnityPoint to take over a facility that has been closed, Heddington Oaks, that vote is going to be [Thursday night]”, said Koehler.

He said that if the vote passes this new initiative, there will be a press conference on Friday morning.

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