Illinois Suicide Prevention Advocates Sound Alarm on Crisis Calls Surge, Funding Shortage

(Springfield, IL) – A top Illinois behavioral health advocate group is sounding the alarm on inadequate state and federal funding for crisis call centers as pleas for help to the national suicide help line surge.

“Both suicide hot line calls and suicide itself in Illinois and U.S. are approaching crisis levels,” said Illinois Association for Behavioral Health C.E.O. Sara Howe. “But inadequate funding is eroding the network of crisis centers across the country as suicide has increased in 49 out 50 states in the last two decades.

Howe noted that during the next four years, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) expects 12 million calls, equal to the calls it previously received over 12-years between 2005 and 2017.

There are currently 150 local crisis centers across the country that answer calls from the Lifeline, but from 2008-2012, nine centers dropped out of the network and from 2013-2017, 23 centers dropped out. In 2018, three centers closed.

In Illinois, there are currently seven crisis call centers. In the last six months of 2017, those seven centers could answer only 27% of the 32,675 calls from Illinois residents that poured in. The rest of the Illinois calls had to had bounce elsewhere around the country in search of an available crisis counselor.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Human Services, which funds crisis services through grants to community-based providers, has seen their crisis care prevention budget cut by $400,000. In Fiscal Year 2015 there were 85 awards to community-based providers totaling $13.2 million. And in Fiscal Year 2019 there are 76 awards totaling $12.8 million.

“The crisis call center network funding needs to be growing, not shrinking, as the call volume escalates,” said Howe. “Desperate pleas for help can’t bounce around from one overwhelmed crisis center to another throughout the country if we’re serious about preventing suicide.”

In June, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that in every state except Nevada, rates of suicide increased between 1999 and 2016. Illinois saw an increase of 22.8 percent.

Between 2006 and 2015 in Illinois, 12,121 succumbed to suicide, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The department also reports that for young adults, 15 to 34, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in Illinois.

The highest rate of suicide in Illinois per 10,000 residents between 2006-2015 was in Central Illinois’ Mason County with a 24.6 rate. Cook, Kane, and De Witt Counties tied with the lowest rate at 7.8. The City of Chicago had a 6.8 rate.

Howe says state funding for Illinois’ seven centers must increase by 10% or $1.2 million over the current budget of $12.8 million.

“We are losing youth and young adults to suicide at an alarming rate, while the state has eroded funding for suicide prevention, putting even more young people at risk,” said Howe. “State governments need to step up their crisis care funding by at least 10% or $1.2 million, and suicide prevention should a top priority of Illinois’ next governor.”

Sara Howe,


Poll: Illinois Voters Back More Money for Mental Health, Addiction Treatment

(Springfield, IL) – With the November 6 election less than four months away, a new poll reveals that majorities of Illinois voters back increased state funding for both mental health and addiction treatment services.

A July 12 survey of 423 likely voters conducted by Illinois Public Opinion, Inc. found that a whopping 68.5% want the State of Illinois “investment more money in mental health care” while only 8.7% “invest less.” And 22.6% were undecided.

“Clearly, Illinois voters overwhelmingly support increasing funding for mental health services,” said Sara Howe, C.E.O. of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health. “Mental health care has increasingly won vocal, bi-partisan support among state and federal lawmakers as they scramble to respond to tragic and more frequent mass shootings across the country, with mental health care being one of multiple prevention strategies, and public opinion is responding.”

Howe, notes that state funding for mental health funding has been, however, on a long, steady decline with an exception of a minor bump in the current state budget.

In Fiscal Year 2008, the legislature appropriated $368 million from the state’s general revenue fund to community mental health agencies. By Fiscal Year 2018, that amount had fallen by more than half to $170 million. In the Fiscal Year 2019 spending plan, community mental health providers, however, saw a 3% rate increase.

“The bottom line is that Illinois’ mental health budget has wilted despite public opinion,” said Howe. “The message from voters is loud and clear: more money for mental health care is a priority.”

The poll also showed that most voters, 52.4%, also support “investing more money” for treatment to help people struggling with drug addiction while 19.9% said “invest less” and 27.6% were undecided.

“The stigma of drug addiction has long weighed on public support for treatment services even though addiction is a neurological brain disease,” said Howe, explaining the gap in support in comparison to mental health. “That said, now having more than 50% of voters supporting greater financial in addiction treatment services is a sea-change in public opinion, and I’m convinced that the heroin epidemic and broader opioid crisis has driven that change because virtually no community has been untouched.”

The state general revenue funding pattern for addiction treatment services has also followed that of mental health care, dropping from $165 million in 2008 to $78 million in 2018.

“What is clear from the polling data is that voters by wide margins want the state to invest more money in behavioral health care,” said Howe. “Conditions in communities across the state, like the opioid crisis and mass shootings, are propelling public opinion forward.”

The automated survey contacted voters by both landline and cell phones and the margin of error was +/- 5.0%.