Raising mental-health awareness

Raising mental-health awareness

By SAIRAH JAHANGIR

As a resident of Champaign County and a graduate student at the University of Illinois in the School of Social Work, I would like to bring to your attention a very serious issue affecting our community and residents.

Currently, even though there are places like the Pavilion and Crosspoint Human Services that provide psychiatric and mental health services in crisis, our mental health policies dictate that if a person with serious psychiatric or mental illness comes into contact with law enforcement for any infraction, this person is to be incarcerated and sent to jail instead of redirected to psychiatric care.

In our current climate, mental health service agencies have had a massive negative impact on their availability to provide service programs for mental health, substance abuse and psychiatric care due to budget cuts and reallocation of funds. However, at the same time, there are proposals calling for Urbana jail expansion.

This presents a dilemma for our community given that the need for mental health services has not reduced, and instead of allocating funding for these services, individuals who come into contact with the law are being routed through the prison system instead of mental health care.

The increased numbers of people then going into jail is then used as an argument to provide more funding for jail expansion. People with serious mental illness need treatment, not incarceration.

With such a serious problem affecting our community, I believe your newspaper would greatly benefit our community with more coverage of the local debate and issues stemming from the policy of incarceration of individuals in need of mental and psychiatric care.

It would also be beneficial for the community to have a valuable resource such as The News-Gazette to help raise awareness and serve as a beacon for the voices of those in our community who are affected by this.

Sairah Jahangir lives in Urbana.