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Catch-22: Get A Job, Lose Your Mental Health Treatment

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Allen Hasselson doesn't want to lose his mental-health benefits. (CBS)

Allen Hasselson doesn’t want to lose his mental-health benefits. (CBS)

CBS Chicago (con't)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A Catch-22 is happening in Illinois for the working poor with mental illnesses: They’re not getting the help they need because they have jobs.

They are causalities of the state’s budget crisis, CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports.

In a difficult economy, Allen Hasselson is fortunate. He has a job in a grocery store.

But right now, that’s also a problem for Hasselson. Employment means he’s cannot get public aid.

He’s been going to The Independence Center in Waukegan. It’s a non-profit organization that helps people like Hasselson with mental illnesses.

“It’s a place to come whenever you have any kind of problem. They have an excellent staff here,” said Hasselson.

The state of Illinois has slashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to the Independence Center and many other places that serve the mentally ill.

As a result, there’s little money to cover those who don’t have Medicaid.

Hasselson described his greatest fear: “I don’t want to spend time in the hospital again. The center has helped keep me out of the hospital.”

Advocates for people with mental illnesses say the government is being short-sighted by not fully funding places like the Independence Center.

What’s at stake for them if they don’t get the services they need?

“Their housing, their ability to stay in the community,” said Lisa Johnson, the center’s executive director. “A lot of more people will be hospitalized more than they were in the past, which is a great cost to everyone in Illinois.”

Hospital stays for the working poor are often more expensive, Johnson said, than the preventive care people receive at the Independence Center.

“Our goal is to work with people to keep them out of crisis, keep them out of hospitals, keep them out of the prisons,” Johnson said. “There’s a great risk of people trying to hurt themselves, trying to hurt others when they’re not treated.”

The Independence Center offers individual and group counseling and encourages its members to take their medication.

Johnson said even people with Medicaid are not receiving the level of mental health services they had in past years.

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