Senate bills look to tackle mental health staffing crisis

Illinois Department of Human Services
Illinois Department of Human Services(WGEM)
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 5:27 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - As stressors from the pandemic to gas prices increase, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report mental illness is on the rise. Over time, they’ve seen an increase in anxiety and depression, especially in children.

Two bills moving through the statehouse look to improve the approach to mental illness by increasing professionals in the field and creating a Mental Health Council for Children.

There are only 14 mental health professionals available for every 10,000 Illinois residents, according to information from Senate Democrats. That doesn’t guarantee that there’s support for every area of mental health.

“You go to school, you go to work, but you’re having severe anxiety, thoughts that keep coming back that are negatively impacting your ability to interact with others -- that’s what we’re talking about,” said Sen. Karina Villa (D-West Chicago). “Every single level of the system is stressed right now.”

Even moderate intervention for less severe mental illness has a wait time of three months, Villa said. people requiring more severe intervention, for either suicidal ideation, substance addiction or other help may have to wait even longer.

An omnibus bill that began in the Senate and is moving through the House would do several things to help improve the amount of workers in behavioral health. It would provide grants to help improve and get interns involved in the field with the hope of improving diversity in the field. Additionally it would streamline the time it takes to license out-of-state behavioral health professionals which they hope would add more people to the field.

“Our state is in the middle of a mental health crisis,” CEO of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois Marvin Lindsey said. “There are a record number of Illinoisans seeking mental health services, while there is an unprecedented work shortage crisis.”

According to information from CEBHA, there are 5,821 vacant clinical and support positions, while also having around 9,000 on waiting lists for treatment. Lindsey said it takes anywhere from six months to one year to fill those vacancies.

In an effort to destigmatize those battling mental illness and drug addiction, the bill also includes a tax credit for employers who hire and employ someone with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. Currently, employers are under no obligation to know the employee’s mental condition. This bill wouldn’t change that, employees would still have to disclose to their employer their illness, while also letting them know they are available for a tax credit.

“An employer will never know they have an employee who’s in recovery unless they let them know,” Illinois Association for Behavioral Health Vice President of Government Relations Randy Wells said.

Lastly, a second bill being pushed by the senate would establish a children’s mental health council which would seek to expand children’s access to mental health services.

Due to the staffing shortages in the field, facilities for children often don’t have room to take them in. Children can be sent out of state or left without help in the meantime.

The council would be required to meet at least four times a year and create an annual report to be presented to the General Assembly. It’s not an immediate solution, the legislators admit, but it starts and continues the conversation on mental health in children.

Both bills passed out of the Senate earlier in March. They are now in the House. If they pass there, they’ll head to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk for signing.

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