Updated: March 8, 2013 7:40AM
Treating the mentally ill effectively and proactively is a necessary bridge to any effective gun control program, but the nation cannot do that unless we know who are the mentally ill and are prepared to treat them.
In Illinois, that could be a problem. How far away are we from mental health care being sufficient in the state? Very far.
Between 2009 and 2012, Illinois slashed funding for community mental health programs by more than 30 percent — more than all but three other states, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Even before those cuts, Illinois’ per capita spending on mental health was about $85, well below the national average of $123.
The funding situation has made it nearly impossible for people who aren’t in crisis or eligible for Medicaid to enter the mental health care system.
When Gov. Pat Quinn closed several mental health centers, including the Tinley Park center last summer, to save money, we were assured that the state’s commitment to care for the mentally ill would not be diminished. New methods. New approaches. All better than before.
We have no reason to believe that is true now any more than when we heard it the first time.
Even if the national debate over gun control had not arisen after the Newtown, Conn., school tragedy, those afflicted by mental illness in Illinois still would deserve better treatment than they are getting.
As a staff psychiatrist at the Tinley Park center noted last summer, the mentally ill often have no money and less political power. They can be shuttled between ever-diminishing sources of help, and they are easily made invisible.
The debate over the failed duty to protect them can be inconvenient when the effect of cutting such resources becomes clearer. While there’s no way to predict when a tragedy like the recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado might occur — or even if the perpetrator will have a mental illness — the lack of resources in Illinois makes it less likely that a mental health provider could intervene.
Mental health care is just another basic government social service that has been sacrificed in Illinois.