Rauner, General Assembly playing chicken over mental health money: Mitchell

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Gov. Bruce Rauner | AP file photo

When elected officials play chicken, the state’s most vulnerable residents are at risk.

For instance, although people like to blame Gov. Bruce Rauner for draconian cuts that would affect the disadvantaged, the General Assembly could ignore Rauner’s proposals and look elsewhere.

But every year there’s a standoff and, as always, social service programs are targets.


Frankly, it’s unbelievable that despite the alarming number of shootings and homicides in Chicago, Rauner is seriously considering cutting $82 million from the Division of Mental Health.

Even agencies that serve populations primarily on the North Side are running scared.

News that Community Counseling Centers of Chicago would close its doors at the end of the month came as such a shock, therapists and health care professionals rallied Tuesday to protest the closure.

RELATED: House Dems reject Rauner’s proposed cuts to human services

At some community health centers, the $82 million proposed cut would mean psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses getting pink slips.

The steep cuts would also result in more mentally ill people ending up in Cook County Jail or in a hospital or in a cemetery.

“You simply cannot provide mental health care without access to medical professionals trained in psychiatry,” said Andy Wade, vice president of strategy and communications for Metropolitan Family Services.

Metropolitan Family Services claims the elimination of psychiatric treatment grants will threaten its entire mental health practice.

“They provide the expertise and diagnoses that are the foundation of successful treatment, including medication when it is necessary,” Wade said.

Kevin Birmingham, 47, was diagnosed with a bipolar condition in 1991. He was treated at two other community health centers before the facilities were forced to close. Birmingham was hospitalized about 32 times before he landed at Metropolitan Family Services.

“When I found Metro, I was in bed depressed and suffering from anxiety. I was handicapped and suicidal,” Birmingham told me. “Metro has been a saving grace for me. I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Angela Love, 47, was a straight-A student earning a degree in business management before she was diagnosed with severe depression.

Her life began to unravel after she discovered her father’s dead body in 2002. She suffered another trauma when two men broke into her house while she was home, and she also survived two rape attempts.

“To this day I still feel violated. I thought I would lose my mind. I slept all day. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t go outside. I didn’t talk to anybody. My bedroom was my domain. One day I said to myself, this is not of God. I went back to Metropolitan, where my psychiatrists and therapists have helped. They were a real lifesaver,” she said.

Sometimes it seems many of us have more compassion for animals than we do for the human beings who are battling mental disorders. We bemoan the plight of sick puppies and ignore the sight of homeless adults sprawled on the street.

But while there are many things a person can do to improve his or her community, treating mental illness is not one of them.

“We don’t have the tools,” Love said. “My environment led me to be the way I am, but with God, my psychiatrist, my therapist and my groups, they have made me a better person,” she said.

Springfield should stop playing games with these lives.

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