Op-Ed: Gun Violence, Dwindling Services and Mental Health

Gun Mandalas

Yosman Botero’s artwork, gun mandalas. | artreport.com

Tuesday, May 9, 2017 || By Jesse Rosas || OPINIONS || @maywoodnews

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. The commemoration, started in 1949, is an effort to de-stigmatize mental health issues across the nation.

Fortunately, over the past few decades we’ve seen a slow but steady uptick in public discussions surrounding mental health. Just last month, Prince Harry was lauded for sharing his mental health struggles following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in an interview with The Telegraph.

Even more recently, the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” an adaptation of a young-adult novel about the circumstances surrounding a teenage girl who commits suicide, has garnered both positive and critical reviews for its representation of mental illness and suicide in teenagers.

As a result of these developments, more people are talking about mental health, which is important.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Issues, approximately 43.8 million adults in the U.S., or about 1 in 5, experience mental illness each year. Mental health issues can take many forms: Depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders, anxiety. The list goes on.

And while conversations about fostering good mental health are beginning to gain traction, still only about 41 percent of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the last year. There is still much work to be done.

At Proviso Township Mental Health Commission, we believe mental health discussions shouldn’t stem only from celebrities and public officials. Mental health is something that impacts everyone, from day to day. Discussions about mental health and wellness should also take place in the sphere of everyday life. Anyone can be a role model for mental health.

Especially here in Illinois, putting in the effort to raise mental health awareness by encouraging open, frank discussions could have a significant impact. You don’t have to look far to find places in the state in desperate need of mental health assistance.

Gun violence in Chicago’s hardest hit neighborhoods ripples outward, affecting families and entire communities. Many kids who have experienced gun violence firsthand are prevented from enjoying normal childhoods, because they’re too scared to go outside.

Cook County Jail, which houses more than 9,000 inmates, has been dubbed the largest mental-health facility in the county. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of inmates in Cook County Jail suffer from mental illness, due to shuttering state and county mental health centers.

And like so many other vital services, mental health programs continue to disappear due to the state’s inability to pass a budget during the past two years.  In particular, the elimination of Psychiatric Leadership Capacity Grants in 2016 has meant that approximately 140 mental health centers in the state lost funding for psychiatric services.

So while we’re encouraged to see greater discussion of mental health on a national and international scale, it’s time to bring these conversations home, to Illinois. I strongly urge local citizens to call their legislators to advocate for funding for mental health programs.

Elected officials, especially, need to begin to carry their fair share of responsibility on this issue. Those suffering from mental illness cannot always speak up for themselves. Our strength as a state is reflected in how we treat our most vulnerable. It’s time to break this cycle of inaction, so people can get the help they need.  VFP

Jesse Rosas is executive director of the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission.

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