Survey shows worsening mental health, increased illicit drug use in Kane County
An unexpected increase in the number of Kane County residents experiencing mental health issues and using illicit drugs may revive a push for a new countywide tax quashed last year.
A new Kane County public health department survey shows hefty increases in the past three years in residents self-reporting poor-to-fair mental health and illicit drug use. The survey included a weighted sample created from about 1,000 responses. The sample had a confidence interval of plus or minus 3 percent.
The survey shows 17.8 percent of county residents believe their mental health is poor to fair, up from 10.5 percent in 2015. More residents in the north and south ends of the county reported poor-to-fair mental health than in the central region, the latest survey shows. Women, people aged 18 to 39 and those with low income also reported worse mental health than other demographic groups.
In another reflection of the county's increasing number of opioid overdose deaths, the number of people reporting illicit drug use in the survey climbed from 1.7 percent in 2015 to 6 percent in 2018. It was highest, 8.6 percent, in the northern end of the county.
The big jumps came as a surprise to county health officials.
"When we got the data, we were like, 'OK, what just happened,'" said Barb Jeffers, executive director of the public health department.
Addressing mental health disparities became a top priority in the county several years ago.
Last year, the county's mental health advisory committee proposed consolidating all township-based mental health taxing bodies (known as 708 boards) into one large board. It would include townships on the northern end, which have no such 708 boards or mental health taxes, for the first time. The consolidated panel would use a new, countywide mental health tax to distribute funding to local residents in need of mental health, addiction or developmental disabilities services. The county would need voter approval, via referendum, to create such a tax.
The plan never moved beyond discussion, because existing 708 boards and similar bodies at the municipal level in Geneva and St. Charles feared the loss of local control of funding. For Geneva and St. Charles, it would create a double-taxing situation unless the towns zeroed out their mental health tax levies.
County board members said they'd like to see the health department conduct a "roadshow" on the county's northern end to spread information about the disparity of mental health and services those residents experience. The goal would be to drum up support for the consolidation and new tax.
There may already be some movement toward change. Dundee Township is considering a 708 board/tax referendum. County officials agreed the long-term solution is an equitable, countywide approach to mental health.
"We have an imbalance in mental health services," Jeffers said. "There's a lot to be done. But to give up, I don't think that's in the best interests of our community."