Establishment of a mental health care network in Chicago

Mental illnesses, disorders and burnout were ignored, tucked under the rug, or seen as ailments to be ashamed of or signs of weakness.

Thankfully, attitudes have changed to the point where therapy is openly discussed and many companies grant mental health days to employees who need a break from everyday stress.

Now, 87% of American adults believe having a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of and 86% think those with the condition could eventually improve, according to a 2018 survey by The Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association.

That prospect has been a godsend for the past 2 12 years when many Americans hit a wall trying to navigate life amid a global health crisis. But unfortunately, some people are still ashamed to ask for help, don’t know how to get in touch, and fear they won’t be able to afford treatment.

Chicago is doing something about it, we are happy to report. Its Mental Health Equity plan is expanding access to more mental health care facilities, and a 211 phone number is slated to launch in the fall that will make it easier for people to connect to health and social services, including counseling.

It’s almost time. Chicago is the only major city in the country that doesn’t already have a 211 system in place.

The recent unveiling of 988, the federal government’s national mental health crisis hotline, made it easier for people in crisis to get help. Chicago’s 211 system, which will be rolled out simultaneously in suburban Cook County, will simplify the process of finding the right resources for people who may not be in crisis but need help with their emotional well-being. Both numbers will free up non-emergency 311 operators, who will then be able to focus on calls related to garbage collection, tree pruning and potholes.

At the same time, the Chicago Department of Public Health will continue with its mental health plan by connecting with 26 other partners: local care providers who provide mental health services. With the expansion, all 77 neighborhoods will have “trauma-informed treatment centers”.

Residents who come to these facilities are guaranteed assistance, regardless of whether they can afford it or not, have health insurance, or are US citizens. When callers dial 211, they will be guided through the process of finding a service center and what to expect during a visit, which should help ease the nerves of anyone who is feeling down.

“The city has long needed two things: an easy way to connect, to a safety net system that doesn’t alienate anyone,” as Matt Richards, CDPH Deputy Commissioner for Behavioral Health recently told us. “It has been too difficult for people to connect to what they need and the best practice is to have a single number.”

Callers may have multiple needs: finding counseling, housing, a pediatrician for their child, the location of the nearest food pantry, and 211 operators will provide all of these connections.

A focus on young people

With block grants and additional federal and citizen funding, the city’s budget for mental health services has skyrocketed from $ 36 million in 2021 to $ 89 million by 2022. As a result, the city will be able to serve 60,000 adults, including 14,500 children by the end of the year. This is a huge step forward, as minors did not have access to mental health services in the city before 2021.

It is especially important to address the mental health challenges of adolescents, who may end up resorting to violence and substance abuse if their anxiety or depression is dismissed as nothing more than adolescent angst.

Last year, 37% of public and private high school students across the country reported that their mental health was poor for most or all of the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Girls and young members of the LGBTQ community were particularly likely to say that their mental health faltered during the pandemic.

As a city, we need to make resources available to preserve and improve the mental well-being of the next generation.

A decade ago, more than half of the city’s public health clinics closed due to lack of funds. Six years later, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was criticized for consolidating 12 city-run mental health clinics to save money.

Partly due to federal funding for COVID, CDPH officials say sufficient funds are available to keep Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mental health plan operational for the next four years. They hope the now-deployed care network can sustain itself well beyond then, with additional money from the city and higher Medicaid reimbursements to the city’s community partners.

We hope so too.

Illinois has a lower prevalence of mental illness and higher rates of access to care for adults and youth than Washington DC and 38 other states, according to a 2022 report by Mental Health America.

But that means 11 other states are doing better. There is still room for improvement.

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