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Opinion: Hamilton County's Mental Health Levy Saved My Life

Michael DeLeon Opinion contributor - Published in the Enquirer on September 26, 2022

Watching the news we see stories of mass shootings, murders, drug-related incidents and suicides. When we see these stories, they bring up gun control laws or more drug treatment programs. Only when a suicide occurs is when mental health is talked about. What people do not realize is that all these stories have one thing in common, and it’s rarely talked about − mental illness.

Good people do not do terrible things. Rather good people who have a mental illness that is untreated do terrible things. People who can not decipher reality from delusion commit these terrible and harmful crimes we see and read about. To stop this, we need more mental health programs and mental health awareness.

With Election Day only a few months away, the political ads will begin to flood the radio and TV airways. Many of you will try to decide who will be best to represent you in office through the negative ads and try to figure out what each candidate stands for. Elections get too overwhelming for some people to the point that they only vote in presidential election years, or if something that grabs the headlines will get you to come out and vote your conscious. What gets lost in elections are the bond issues and levies needed to fund schools, programs and infrastructure.

The Hamilton County commissioners have decided to put a mental health levy on the ballot for this coming election. It is a 32% property tax increase. It’s a five-year levy that will bring in $45 million annually. The current levy brings in $36.5 million a year for mental health services. This amount may scare you because your property taxes will increase, but they will only go up an additional $13.30 per $100,000. The current property tax is $40.93 per $100,000. With inflation at 9.1% and people are tightening their budgets, the knee-jerk reaction is to vote "no" against this levy. But before you do, please hear me out.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, and the world as we know it changed. Being isolated for months made people aware that not only did they have to battle COVID, but many experienced mental health issues also. Depression and anxiety increased 25%, and the suicide rate increased 30%.

Did the pandemic cause mental illness? Not really, but the isolation it brought caused people to be alone with their thoughts, and the quietness caused people not to know how to deal with their thoughts and emotions. Depression set in because we no longer had our freedom to what we wanted when we wanted, and anxiety set in because we were overly cautious not to catch or be around someone who has COVID, not to mention losing your job or lack of income. More anxiety was caused on how to survive, like feeding my family and paying my bills. It was a very tough time.

Next, we started losing loved ones and people close to us to this terrible disease to compound the depression and anxiety. Now the pandemic is winding down, we hope, and the new normal has been established in the world. Masks and frequent hand washing will not go away anytime soon.

With the pandemic, mental health issues have increased. The pandemic forced people to work from home or decide to change professions so the workforce took a severe hit and so did our economy. More people need mental health services, but there is a lack of money to hire the extra help and find the extra help for those who need services.

I am in no way an expert on the pandemic or effects from it. But when it comes to mental health, I can give you a first hand view of it for I suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and personality disorder. I was diagnosed with my mental illness in 2013, but after many therapy sessions, I have realized I’ve been dealing with mental issues since the age of 2.

When I was 2 years old, my mom’s then-boyfriend who became my stepdad was supposed to come and pick me up and take me out for ice cream. My mom dressed me up and got me excited about the outing. He never showed up and this was the beginning of my abandonment issues that would haunt me until this very day. At the age of 8, I started having panic attacks, waking up in the middle of the night worried that I would stop breathing and that I would die at a young age. At the age of 15, my anxiety was so bad that I physically made myself sick. At the age of 22, the beginnings of my bipolar disorder started. I would have mania rants and be instinctively impulsive and partaking in risky behavior. At the age of 27, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, not knowing that depression is associated with diabetes. There were days I didn't want to get out of bed and had no interest in doing anything.

In 2009 at the age of 42, two of the biggest life-changing events happened to me to set off my mental downfall. The first one was my ex-wife filing for divorce and separating me from my children. Then, my world came to an end when my mom - my rock - passed away. My depression deepened and my suicidal thoughts and tendencies started. I had three failed suicide attempts.

When I got out of the hospital after my last failed attempt, I went to Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. While there, I got a case worker and saw a psychiatrist and found out about my mental illness. Once I found out what was wrong with me, I started therapy to learn how to deal with it.

My bipolar disorder was causing me the biggest problem. I couldn’t keep a job and my living situation was unstable. I was homeless eight different times, lived in three group homes, a nursing home, two homeless shelters and lived on the streets twice. While at City Gospel mission, one night I was praying and asked God to send me a sign that would help end this terrible cycle in my life. That’s when I met Hannah and Erik from IKRON, a mental health agency in Cincinnati. I learned what IKRON was about and what services they had. I knew in my heart that God had sent me a sign and my prayer was answered.

Once accepted into IKRON’S day program, I joined their "anxiety" group and the "getting out of depression" group. In October of 2020, I graduated from IKRON’S day program, found a job, got a car and now have my own apartment. I have been self-sufficient for two years now.

I am living proof that the mental levy saved my life, and the money it generates is put to good use and helps so many people like me.

When you go to vote on Election Day remember my story. I represent many success stories but there are many more out there waiting to become success stories. Don’t worry about the extra taxes, think about how many lives this money will save. Please vote "yes" for the mental health levy on Nov. 8.

Michael DeLeon lives in Norwood.

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