Speech at Chicago Mental Health Rally on May 15, 2013 at the Thompson Center

Kathy Powers delivering speech

Good afternoon!

My name is Kathy Powers. I am here today with the Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4) and the Organization of the Northeast (ONE). C4 teaches me how to control my symptoms, and ONE feeds my soul by teaching me how to advocate for my community through actions and leadership training.

I am 62 and have lived with bipolar illness since I was 11. I spent years in hospitals in four separate states. Almost every day, I used to wake up with a sense of dread and hopelessness about life. Through the support of strangers with random acts of kindness, and some hard therapy and soul searching by me, I actually feel some happiness and know that I must share what I can to help others as they helped me.

The Mental Health Justice Group of ONE is a group of mental health consumers and allies in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park. We fight to protect community mental health services and thereby improve the lives of our neighbors living with mental illness. At the state level, we complement our allies’ work, including the Mental Health Summit and the Behavioral Health Advocates.

The Governor’s 2014 state budget proposes a $25M increase in the Department of Mental Health (DMH) budget, mostly to comply with the Williams v. Quinn Consent Decree that orders the discontinuation of warehousing persons living with mental illness who recovered in nursing homes and reintegrate them into the community. Although we think that Williams needs full funding, this funding must not take away money from all other mental health funding.

I used to receive excellent care at the Northtown/Rogers Park Mental Health Clinic. Due to funding cuts to the city system, with no warning or referral services, I lost the opportunity to see a psychiatrist. Because of this, I could not get my medicine. After that, I went to an emergency room to get a prescription that lasted a month. Then I needed hospitalization when my meds ran out. I did well in the hospital when I received meds, but after discharge, I could not find a psychiatrist who would accept Medicare or Medicaid. Then the five Chicago clinics closed completely, leaving me med-less and therapy-less.

After my second hospitalization in a month, I began to receive minimal psychiatric services at C4. Through group therapy, I discovered that I was not alone in trying to receive services. How many here have similar stories? Give a shout!

If the state does not increase the budget to mental health, the cuts from previous years will remain inadequate to serve the needs for recovery services. It needs to reinvest in community mental health services and bring funding to the present levels that it cut in the past.

The Supportive Housing Budget at $28.5M assures me that I will continue to get appropriate housing. This lifts a tremendous burden from me about worrying that society will “disappear” me and chuck me in a hellhole facility forever if I relapse. I see the only redeeming factor of institutionalization as self-motivation to get out or die. How many of you or your loved ones are trying to escape now?

The cumulative savings from fewer hospitalizations, ER visits and institutionalization by funding community recovery treatment is effective and less costly than non-treatment. Cuts negatively affect the community and make services scarce, increase illness by inadequate services, and multiply stigma and ignorance about mental illness. Worst of all, inadequate recovery services impair persons living with mental illness from becoming contributing members of society. Like me, like you, like your loved ones!

Thank you.

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