More than 400 protesters rallied in front of the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, demanding increased state funding for mental health services.
Officials from mental health organizations and other supporters called for more money for community programs to help serve the mentally ill. Organizers said about 800 additional people rallied simultaneously in Springfield as part of the Ninth Annual Mental Health Rally and Lobby Day.
“We are trying to draw attention to the fact that community mental health systems need to be preserved,” said Mark Heyrman, chairman of the Mental Health Summit, on his way to the Springfield rally.
Heyrman argued that failing to provide funds to mental health programs could create even bigger problems with homelessness and crime – two issues that many protesters at the rally said they have experience with as recovered or current mental-illness sufferers.
About one in four Americans experiences some kind of mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago. The availability of treatment for the more than 700,000 adults in Illinois with a severe mental illness depends on state funding, said Suzanne Andriukaitis, executive director of the Alliance.
Several protesters and speakers noted that the recession will make it more difficult than ever to stop mental health funds from being reduced.
“This has been a tough economic year for Americans, but it’s been a tougher year for people with mental illness,” said Dr. Terrence Koller, the executive director of the Illinois Psychological Association.
Daniel Knapp, one of the protesters at the Thompson Center, thinks their cause should get more government attention as mental illness is more common than many people think.
“These are a lot of very creative, helpful people that can be even more helpful and creative in our society given the ability and the means to do so,” he said. “It takes money to do that.”
Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the American Psychiatric Association, told the crowd that everyone with a mental illness should have access to state help if they need it.
“If you need and want medication, you should get it. You have a right to it,” she said. “If you need and want therapy, you have a right to it and you should get it.”