Your Turn: Justice Matters group supports mental health sales tax

“I (expletive) hate my life. I am going to end it. My friend just took all my guns away. This is serious.”

That is what my friend told me Wednesday morning as I stood next to the apple stand at the Merc waiting for my fancy coffee. His hands were shaking as he fidgeted — wiping his watery eyes, playing with his glasses, scrunching his sleeves up and down on his jacket. I mentally adjusted my morning plans.

Coincidentally, my original assignment was to make sure a guest column in support of Proposition 1 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot got to the Journal-World before lunch. The sales tax in question would support a desperately needed expansion of mental health services right here in Douglas County. I planned to explain to you, my neighbor, the five reasons Justice Matters is supporting the initiative.

Reason 1: People with a mental health emergency need a place to go that is designed to deliver treatment. Last year, 2,700 people went to the Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room for mental health treatment. While community resources such as the hospital, the jail, and the Lawrence Community Shelter do their best to serve people struggling with mental illness, people in crisis need a designated place designed to specifically handle mental health emergencies. This is a critical piece of Proposition 1, as well as enhancing the ability to bring care out to the people.

Reason 2: The services provided at a mental health crisis center will impact all of our lives. The stigma associated with mental health is still a powerful force, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness every year. Even if you never set foot in the new crisis center, it’s a safe bet that someone you love will. Ensuring that treatment is available is not just an act of generosity, it’s an act of self-preservation.

Reason 3: Local taxes equal better accountability. No one likes more taxes, and yes, Proposition 1 will raise our sales taxes by one quarter of a penny. But instead of having no idea where the money goes, we know our tax dollars will fund services right here in Douglas County. The organizations designated to receive increased funding if Proposition 1 passes include DCCCA, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Heartland, and Bert Nash — all organizations that are staffed by and serve people right here. And as community members, we can and should watch to ensure that our money is spent wisely.

Reason 4: Proposition 1 has nothing to do with a bigger jail. I say this not to revisit the division caused by the previous Proposition 1, but because some people seem genuinely confused about the new Proposition 1. Though the proposition numbers are the same, the tax called for in the current ballot measure will support community mental health services and nothing more.

And reason 5: My friend. And probably some of yours. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Douglas County residents ages 14-44. That is unacceptable. I could not take my friend to a mental health crisis center because it doesn’t exist yet. I talked with him until his appointment with a professional, and I arranged to meet him later. That’s the best I could do for him. That, and voting yes for Proposition 1.

• Ben MacConnell is the lead organizer for the faith-based advocacy group Justice Matters. He submits this Your Turn Article to the Journal-World on behalf of the Justice Matters Mental Health Issue Committee.


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