Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday May 19th, 2016, 5:01pm

Mental Health Advocates Illustrate 'Devastating' Impact Of Illinois Budget Impasse During Chicago Rally

Mental health advocates say the state budget impasse is having a "devastating" impact on services and pushing state psychiatric facilities to the point where they can't afford basic necessities like toilet paper.  

Many mental health services have gone unfunded during the 11-month impasse.

Mental Health AmericaNAMI Chicago (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Thresholds and Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare were among the groups and service providers who rallied at the Thompson Center Thursday morning, demanding an end to the state budget stalemate. 

The group chanted call-and-response style, "What do we want? A budget! When do we want it? Now!"

Stacks of toilet paper were placed in front of the stage, representing the basic necessities mental health facilities are currently struggling to afford.

"State psychiatric facilities, their budgets are cut so much that they can't afford to buy basic things like toilet paper," said Kyra Wilson the assistant director of Honest Open Proud, an anti-stigma program at NAMI Chicago. 

NAMI Chicago Executive Director Alexa James said mental health advocates hold an annual rally at the Thompson Center in May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month and the last month of the Illinois legislative session.

"Every year we say, 'Stop cutting. Stop cutting.' Every year they continue to cut more, and this year, we don't even have a budget," she said. "Our service providers we rely on have not gotten paid, and it's devastating. People are getting sicker. People are ending up in jails. People are utilizing emergency departments. People are dying, and it's a significant issue that's bigger than ego, and we have to come together and solve this."

Last week, the legislature passed $700 million in emergency human services funding, including for mental health programs. The spending bill is currently awaiting action from Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But mental health providers need more than just a stopgap measure, according to the protesters.

James said it's time for lawmakers to pass a "fair and just" budget and that adequately funds mental health care and substance abuse treatment.

"If we invest in the front end [on these services], our return on investment is huge," she said. 

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