Democratic Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL
I want to thank NAMI Northern Illinois for their dedication to improving the quality of life for individuals with mental illness, as well as their families through support and advocacy. Often mental health services are seen as something a municipality funds only after they take care of citizens most basic needs, or when all the flashy projects are complete. As Mayor I promise to be a staunch advocate, as I have on Council, for those with a mental illness. The fact that the Illinois Department of Corrections is our State’s largest mental health provider is appalling. An Individual’s mental health is a basic necessity and as Mayor I will advocate for more funding.
As Third Ward Alderman, I publicly advocated for the opening of the Rosecrance Ware Center on North Main Street a proposal that faced stiff opposition in the community and from several council members. I worked with Alderman Beach to support and pass emergency funding to keep the Rosecrance Mulberry Center open when State funds never came through. I also served on the Exploration Committee to create a 708 Board chaired by Mike Bacon. I was honored to receive the elected official NAMI award in 2015 and promise to continue to fight for more funding, a change in culture, and to close the treatment gaps.
This past month, I introduced a City Budget which doubled our funds directed at police officer training. As Mayor, I will advocate for more training dollars to be used to train and educate officers about mental illness and domestic violence. Today we have a limited number of CIT officers (Crisis Intervention Training- the nationally accepted course model) but we need to have all officers trained in CIT. I believe our Head Start teachers also need to be trained in early identification and prevention so they can truly be more holistic in their approach to serving our youth.
Lastly, I strongly support the creation of a 708 Board. I believe every candidate supports the creation of a 708 Board, but I am the only candidate running for office with the proven experience and track record of working with other government agencies to pass legislation that benefits all of our citizens.
With the help of NAMI and proven leadership in the Mayor’s office I believe we can create a 708 board, which will be instrumental in providing necessary services to all of our citizens.
Independent Mayoral Candidate for Rockford, IL
Mental Health – Training
Since 2010, Rockford police officers have participated in training on how to deal with people with mental health issues. Both Chief Epperson and Chief O’Shea have strong relationships with the mental health providers in the area including Rosecrance/Janet Wattles. These are important relationships to establish and maintain and as Mayor, I would require our police department to not only continue this practice, but to continue to partner on methods and methodologies that give officers the practical tools and resources to better manage the mental health crisis they encounter.
The National Council for Behavioral Health recommends a program called Mental Health First Aide, which brings a practical, demonstrated approach to build mental health literacy and help identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness. The current mental health training our police officers experience is similar in structure and design to this national program. This type of training should be a part of the training curriculum for every newly hired police officer and recertification should be required every two years.
We also need to explore some of the natural partnerships with mental health providers that are already in place. Our department has a Domestic Violence Unit. This unit partners with the Winnebago County Domestic Violence Assistance Center, PHASE/WAVE and other groups. I would like to take these partnerships one step further and integrate staff or volunteers into our three stations so that our officers and our victims have immediate access to support and assistance. Bringing these resources into our stations would provide our officers and the community immediate access to professionals training in recognizing and providing solutions for those in a mental health crisis that can lead to or be a result of domestic violence.
When we discuss a safe, healthy community, we must make mental health solutions a part of that discussion. Integrating mental health literacy and the best practices in managing those issues needs to be an integral part of our police department training.
Mental Health – Funding
In 2011, Linda Rosenberg, President & CEO, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare stated in an article to raise awareness for Mental Health Week, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find that about half of U.S. adults will develop a mental illness during their lifetime. One in four adults experiences a mental disorder in any given year, and one in 17 lives with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. By 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases worldwide as major causes of disability.”
With these staggering statistics in mind, appropriately and fairly funded mental health programs become a smart investment. Current funding levels, most of which are dependent on the State of Illinois, are at a crisis level and have resulted in the closing of facilities and the overcrowding of emergency rooms. In the same article, Ms. Rosenberg points out that “A Surgeon General’s report finds that $1.00 invested in substance use treatment has a return of $7.00 in cost savings on crime and criminal justice costs alone.”
It’s important to remember that funding mental health is a regional issue and requires a regional approach. The establishment of a 708-mental health board inclusive of Winnebago County and our surrounding communities is an absolute need. Our neighbors in McHenry County have found success in this approach. And, while the Community Mental Health Act mandates that the County administer and manage the board, the city of Rockford should play a major, supportive role in this process.
Mental Health – Early Identification
Early identification and prevention on mental illness, especially in Head Start is a good initiative. The Head Start program makes sure that children go to the dentist to assess the condition of their teeth, then why not have a mental health assessment? Many children with mental illness have gone through so much in their young lives. We need to have a program and process that helps them get the right assessments, strategies, and learning plans.
Public safety is a basic need that will allow Rockford to build on so it becomes a safe and prosperous community with a high quality of life for our residents. One main area that plays a large influencing role is how we address mental illness.
We need to establish access to community-based services and reduce reliance on institutional and inpatient care. We also need to protect individuals experiencing mental illness so that they can be treated in the least restrictive environment to the greatest extent possible.
In the long run, greater availability of mental health treatment would provide major savings to society and to crime victims. And a good start is the establishment of a 708-mental health board.