First Responder Mental Health Legislation Clears Senate

Apr 11, 2024Press Release

COOK COUNTY, IL – The Illinois Senate passed legislation today proposed by Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart that eliminates out-of-pocket expenses for first responders seeking mental health treatment.

“We ask first responders to be constantly exposed to traumatic and dangerous situations to protect us,” Sheriff Dart said. “This legislation is a solid step toward helping them. It will remove the financial barriers between them and the tools they need to manage the burden society has placed upon them.”

The need for mental health care for first responders is critical. Due to their exposure to violent and traumatic events, first responders are at an increased risk of developing mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and substance use disorder. The Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology reports suicide rates are 69 percent higher among police officers than the general population, while a Harvard Study has shown that first responders are at a higher risk of developing PTSD. Studies by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions and 75 percent of police officers have experienced a traumatic event.

Sponsored by State Sen. Michael Hastings, SB3538, ensures first responders – including police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel – are exempt from any cost sharing requirements related to mental health counseling, including insurance deductibles, co-payments, and coinsurance.

Unfortunately, finances are often an incredible burden for individuals seeking mental health care. The average price of psychotherapy is up to $200 per session, and insurance companies can pass along as much as 40 percent of the total amount to the insured. In a survey conducted by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 42 percent of respondents identified cost as significant barrier to obtaining mental health services.

“Our first responders have endured many hardships, one hardship they should not face is a barrier to mental health treatment,” said state Sen. Michael Hastings, the legislation’s Senate sponsor. “This is a landmark piece of legislation that will not only impact first responders but set an example for the rest of the country as to how to help them.”

The legislation’s support includes NAMI Chicago, National Association of Social Workers – Illinois Chapter, Mental Health America of Illinois, Illinois Psychiatric Society, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, Police Benevolent and Protective Association, Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and AFSCME Council 31, among others.

The legislation, which was approved without dissent 55-0 Thursday, now moves to the state House, where it will be sponsored by Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar. Sheriff Dart urged lawmakers to quickly approve the measure and send it to Gov. JB Pritzker to sign into law.

“Every day, first responders answer our calls to help during the worst events of our lives – car crashes, violent attacks, health crises, the death of our loved ones – and this bill is an investment in not only their well-being, but in the health and safety of all our communities,” Dart said. “I encourage members of the Illinois House to pass this common-sense legislation in order to ensure the health of those who keep us safe.”