Speaking out: Let's keep the conversation going about mental health

  • Elliott Hartstein

    Elliott Hartstein

By Elliott Hartstein
Speaking Out
Updated 9/27/2022 4:35 PM

For too long, there's been something of a stigma around mental health, and that needs to change.

We must deal head-on with our own mental health and that of family members, friends, and people in our communities. The issue is far bigger than many of us realize, but we've finally started talking about mental health after recent mass shooting, more suicides, and drug abuse in our neighborhoods.


Some numbers should be a wake-up call, but even more so the stories of how mental health affects the people we know: suicides, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 21% of American adults have experienced some form of mental illness; that's 52 million people or 1 in 5 adults. Nearly 6% -- more than 14 million people -- have experienced serious mental illness; and 17% of youth ages 6-17 experience a mental issue, representing close to 8 million kids.

What are we talking about when we refer to mental illness? They are generally disorders that affect the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. Some of the most common mental illnesses are depression, anxiety, ADHD, insomnia, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorders. Anxiety disorders, from general worry to panic attacks, fears and phobias, are the most prevalent mental disorder affecting more than 19% or about 48 million people. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the numbers due to long-term isolation.

These conditions can have severe impacts. People with depression have a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In fact, according to a study presented to the American College of Cardiology's annual Scientific Session in 2017, patients are twice as likely to die if they develop depression after being diagnosed with heart disease -- depression is the strongest predictor of death in the first decade after a heart disease diagnosis.

People with mental illness are more likely to drop out of schools and have higher rates of unemployment, and 46% of people who died by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition. The National Alliance on Mental Health estimates the earnings US employers lose due to mental illness is over $190 billion per year.

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Too many people with mental illness do not get the treatment they need for myriad reasons: lack of diagnosis, delay in treatment, shortage of mental health professionals in their area, and either lack of insurance coverage or the necessary governmental or charitable funding. Only 42% of adults with mental illness received treatment in 2020, and there is an average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment of about 11 years; about 11 % of U.S. adults with mental illness had no insurance coverage in 2020.

We can and must do a better job of providing support for all with mental illness. It is noteworthy that the Jewish United Fund, which provides a wide array of social welfare services, spent $1 million toward mental health services and, this year, has doubled that commitment. Their efforts deserve your support.

Illinois has authorized formations of mental health boards in communities to seek funding for programs through ballot measures. Under the Community Mental Health Act and Illinois House Rule 708, these boards can levy a small tax of up to 0.15% of the assessed value of a home. There are 80 such "708 boards" providing mental health services in schools, substance abuse prevention services for youth, mental health support services for seniors, mental health service for domestic violence survivors, crisis services with law enforcement, and home services for developmental disabilities such as autism. In the upcoming election, voters in Wheeling, Vernon and Schaumburg townships and Will County will be asked to approve the creation of 708 Mental Health boards. This can make an important difference and create some added revenue to support necessary services.

According to news reports the advocates in Schaumburg and Wheeling Townships say the boards would add about $25 year for the owner of a typical home. In Wheeling Township, organizers needed 1,100 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot and got over 2,300. I hope voters lend their support in November and urge other communities to step up to plate and organize petition drives to create 708 boards in our neighboring communities in Northfield Township, West Deerfield Township and other nearby communities.

Support for such 708 Boards and making contributions to other organizations supporting mental health programs is strongly encouraged. I have to say, I am quite proud of my grandson who has stepped up, and for his Mitzvah project for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, is raising funds to support mental health programs. I urge all to follow his lead and do what you can to lend support to making mental health services more readily available to the many in our communities who need them.

• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and a former Buffalo Grove village president. If you are interested in possibly discussing this topic further over Zoom with Elliott and others, you can email him at elliotthartstein@yahoo.com.

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