Your (Unofficial) Guide to State-Sponsored Therapy in Illinois
There’s a way to get affordable mental health care that you might not know about. That’s Illinois’ mental health system.
If you qualify, you can get mental health care at a community mental health center or behavioral health clinic for a small co-pay or a low sliding-scale fee. But even if you don’t qualify for services at a state-funded provider, Illinois’ system can still give you information, local referrals to affordable providers, and other essential help for free.
If you’re in a hurry and want to get the most essential information about what’s available at your local program and who it’s for, you can read our quick start guide below.
To learn more about public mental health services in Illinois, keep reading. We’ve done the research to uncover essential facts about who’s eligible, what services you can get, when to go, where to call, and how it works so you can decide if Illinois’ mental health system might be right for you.
Who Is Eligible?
The Illinois public mental health system can meet many people’s needs, but you should especially consider looking into it if you (or a loved one) are having a mental health crisis, have a severe mental health condition, have Medicaid, or have a limited income.
Everyone in Illinois can use the state-funded mental health emergency response system. If you or someone you love is in crisis, you can call your local crisis line to get the help you need, quickly.
Use the State System When You're in Crisis
Public mental health services are usually the best option if you’re having a mental health crisis and need help right away.
State mental health programs are required to provide mental health crisis response services and are one of the fastest ways to get care when you’re having a mental health emergency.
The people who answer state and local crisis lines can provide caring attention and support as they help you determine the best response to a crisis, whether it’s inpatient treatment or an appointment with a counselor.
Even if you’re not in crisis, you can call a mental health hotline for information about affordable mental health services in your area.
When you call, you can find out whether you might qualify for state-funded mental health services, schedule an appointment, or get free information about affordable local providers.
There are many options for affordable care. Illinois’ mental health system is decentralized, so there are no statewide restrictions on who can use it. Instead, eligibility criteria vary from provider to provider.
What changes depending on your financial situation and diagnosis is whether you qualify for financial aid. You need to meet income eligibility criteria to qualify for state funding through Medicaid, which all providers who participate in the Illinois public mental health system accept.
However, you don’t need Medicaid to go to most publicly-funded providers. Most providers in the public system also accept private insurance. If you don’t have insurance or would prefer to pay out of pocket, most also offer sliding-scale fees.
Who's Eligible for Mental Health Funding in Illinois?
You’re eligible for mental health funding in Illinois if:
- You have a qualifying mental health diagnosis and are eligible for Medicaid;
- You’re ineligible for Medicaid but have a severe mental health condition that affects your ability to function independently and that puts you at risk of hospitalization; or
- You’re ineligible for Medicaid but have a mental health condition and are experiencing a mental health crisis that requires an immediate response.
You can use publicly-funded crisis services in Illinois any time you experience a mental health crisis. If you have a severe mental health condition, you may also qualify for public funding assistance for a range of other mental health services including case management.
One of the easiest ways to get funding for mental health services in Illinois is to get Medicaid. All providers in the public mental health system accept it, and other providers do, too. You’re eligible for Medicaid in Illinois if:
- You don’t have any other insurance coverage and your income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less;
- You qualify for Medicare by virtue of a disability and your income is 100 percent of the federal poverty level or less; or
- You are pregnant or the mother of a newborn and your income is 213 percent of the federal poverty level or less.
If you seek mental health services at a publicly-funded program in Illinois but don’t qualify for funding assistance, you may still qualify to receive the services if you’re willing to pay out of pocket for them. Some programs offer fee assistance or sliding scales to people who don’t qualify for financial assistance from the state.
In some ways, going to a publicly-funded provider in Illinois is the same as going to any other provider: you either pay for services with your insurance or pay out of pocket. So, the best way to get affordable care is to look for providers who accept your insurance or who offer sliding-scale discounts.
Many publicly-funded mental health programs and integrated clinics in Illinois offer outpatient mental health services like group and individual therapy, psychiatric evaluation, and medication management for an affordable fee or co-pay.
However, if you need specialty or intensive services, you’ll need to look for specialty providers who offer them.
Check Out the State System If You Need Specialized Services
Community mental health centers in Illinois are great places to find specialized and intensive mental health services like case management, psychosocial rehabilitation, and day treatment that can be hard to find anywhere else. These specialty services can give you extra help when you’re dealing with severe symptoms.
One of the most important requirements you need to meet to get services at a public mental health program in Illinois is to be a resident of the region it serves.
You can find out which mental health programs serve your region, as well as the phone number for your regional DMH office, in the directory below. We encourage you to call even if you think you might not be eligible.
Even if you’re not eligible, or if the program doesn’t offer the service you want, they can probably still help you. The people who work in these programs are knowledgeable about local resources and will often give you free information or even referrals to other affordable providers nearby, including local non-profits that provide free or low-cost counseling.
Where Do You Call to Get Started?
The easiest way to learn more about state mental healthcare in Illinois is to call your region’s Department of Mental Health office or a crisis or information hotline run by a local provider.
You can find the number for your regional DMH office and listings for local Illinois mental health providers and hotlines in the directory in the next section of this article. You can also try one of the statewide hotlines listed in the information box below.
Important Numbers in Illinois
Public mental health services in Illinois are managed on the state level by the Division of Mental Health (DMH) in Illinois’ Department of Human Services (DHS). For general information about Illinois’ mental health system, you can call the DHS Customer Help Line at (800) 843-6154.
However, you’ll probably get the best results by calling your regional DMH office or a specific local program directly. You can find the numbers for all regional DMH offices and local programs in the directory below.
Illinois Regional Mental Health Directory
One way to find out whether you qualify for services at a publicly-funded mental health program in Illinois is to contact that program directly.
You can also call a local crisis line. People who answer crisis lines are usually happy to give you information about local treatment options even if you’re not in crisis. In the directory below, you’ll find a comprehensive list of publicly-funded providers including those that offer crisis lines. You can also visit this page for an updated list of local publicly-funded mental health crisis lines in Illinois.
Another way to learn more about services in your region is to contact your region’s Department of Mental Health (DMH) office. You can find contact information for all regional DMH offices, as well as which cities and counties each regional office serves, in the directory below.
If you need information after hours or aren’t sure whether you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, it’s okay to call 988 or another crisis line for help. The staff who answer are trained to quickly figure out what you need and can tell you what steps you need to take to connect with the right services.
Another option is to call the Illinois Warm Line at (866) 359-7953. The Warm Line is designed to help when you’re not in crisis but need to talk to someone. The staff who answer the Warm Line can help you find emotional support, learn more about recovery, and get referrals for community services. It’s available Monday through Saturday, 8am to 8pm.
Another way to find out about publicly-funded providers in your area is to use the Office Locator search tool on the Illinois Department of Human Services website. Select “Mental Health” as the Office Type and then select your local county to see an updated list of providers.
Also Consider: Federally Qualified Health Centers
Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are another great way to get affordable publicly-funded mental health services in Illinois.
These federally-funded programs provide cutting-edge care in places where good primary healthcare was once hard to find. Most provide integrated care so you can get primary medical and mental health services at the same location. Each FQHC accepts Medicaid and Medicare and offers low sliding-scale fees if you don’t have insurance.
You can search for FQHCs near you by using the online search tool on the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration website.
The state mental health system is complicated and can be confusing to navigate. If you’re having any issues, we’re here to help. Here are some of our solutions to common problems you might experience.
If you’ve run into a problem that we haven’t addressed, don’t give up. Call someone at the program (or a mental health hotline) and tell them what’s going on.
You’re much more likely to get the help you need when you advocate for yourself and are persistent. Tell the person you talk to what you need or what problem you’re having.
If they don’t help the first time, call them back and tell them. If you keep calling and keep calm and focused, you should eventually get through to someone who can help you.
Deep Dive: How Does the System Work?
To understand Illinois’ mental health system, it helps to understand how it started and how it’s changed since then.
Public mental health services have been around for a surprisingly long time. But for over a hundred years in America, the only way to get them was in a psychiatric hospital.
In the 1960s, Americans started thinking differently about mental health care. Conditions in psychiatric hospitals were getting worse and new medications made it possible to provide mental health treatment on an outpatient basis.
In response, new laws were passed that required state and local governments to establish community mental health programs as alternatives to institutionalization for people with serious mental illness. The most important was the Community Mental Health Act, which President John F. Kennedy signed into law in 1963.
For More Information
To learn more about what the public mental health system was like in the early days—and how psychiatric inpatient care has evolved since then—you can read our article “Do Insane Asylums Still Exist? The Surprising Past and Present.”
To learn more about what inpatient mental health treatment is like now, and the differences between how it works in general hospitals and specialized psychiatric facilities, you can read our article “How Inpatient Mental Health Treatment Works.”
Many state mental health programs trace their origins back to the 1960s when these important changes started to happen. Illinois’ mental health system is no exception.
After Congress passed the federal Community Mental Health Act in 1963, the Illinois legislature passed its own Community Mental Health Act in 1967. Like similar laws passed in other states, it established the foundation for a statewide network of community-based mental health services.
Originally, community mental health centers in Illinois focused on providing community-based services for people with serious mental illness to help them remain stable in the community, enjoy an improved quality of life, and avoid hospitalization. In the 2010s, Illinois expanded its system to include publicly-funded mental health services for people with less severe symptoms or conditions.
What Is the Purpose of the Illinois Mental Heath System?
The purpose of the public mental health system in Illinois is to make sure that people can receive essential mental health services even when they do not have the ability to pay for them.
State agencies fund specialty programs that help people with mental health conditions live independently in the community. These programs offer services like day treatment, case management, psychosocial rehabiliation, and community-based support services.
Illinois has recently expanded its system to serve a wider range of clients. In addition to these specialty services, publicly-funded programs provide a range of standard outpatient mental health services including psychiatric evaluation, medication management, and therapy.
The Illinois public mental health system was significantly impacted by the national recession in 2008 and the long period of state budget and political conflicts that followed. From 2009 to 2012, Illinois cut over $113 million in funding from its public mental health programs, resulting in the closures of many CMHCs, mental health clinics, and specialty agencies and programs across the state.
At the height of this period, many crisis lines and crisis response programs were closed. Many county mental health departments that used to directly provide mental health services started contracting with private agencies to deliver mental health services, including regional crisis lines.
In response to the erosion of the mental health emergency response system, pressure mounted on jails and hospital emergency departments to function as the mental health safety net. Cook County Jail became the biggest mental health provider in the state.
Fortunately, these trends have since reversed. In the late 2010s, Illinois expanded its network of publicly-funded mental health providers to include both high-intensity and low-intensity community-based mental health programs. And in 2021, Illinois passed a law integrating 911 and 988 emergency response systems and rebuilding its statewide mental health crisis response system.
Community Mental Health Centers and Behavioral Health Clinics
When Illinois introduced behavioral health clinics (BHCs) into its system in the late 2010s and started allocating funds to programs for people with more moderate needs, its mental health system became more inclusive.
Both CMHCs and BHCs receive state and federal funds to provide mental health safety net services. However, while CMHCs focus on providing services to people with severe mental health conditions, BHCs focus on serving people with moderate mental health issues. Most CMHCs provide both standard and intensive mental health services, while both CMHCs and BHCs provide outpatient mental health services like therapy.
Illinois’ state mental health program is administered regionally. Each region has its own DMH office which oversees a local network of mental health providers. Most DMH regions encompass several counties.
Some county mental health departments and agencies still provide mental health services directly, but most contract with other community agencies to provide state-funded mental health services.
To learn more about how mental health services are administered in your region, you can call your regional DMH office. They know how the system works and can help you get where you need to go.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 46 percent of people in Illinois who have mental health conditions get treatment for them. Many qualify for public mental health services but don’t know about them.
You can make a difference by reaching out and connecting with local mental health resources to get the care you need. If you’re not sure whether the Illinois public mental health system is right for you, call your local program or regional DMH office. You may find out you can get mental health services through a publicly-funded program or that there’s another affordable option nearby.
The most important thing is to get started—the help you need may be only a call or click away.