Chicago’s budget now supports more mental health services, right in the neighborhood

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and it is a source of pride for our great urban city. When communities come together to support their schools, their safety, and their health, relationships are built—and a great city becomes more manageable, more welcoming, and better known.

Our status as a city of neighborhoods is one of the most powerful reasons why Mayor Lori Lightfoot released the Mental Health Equity Framework in 2019 as her administration considered how to address the serious and growing need for mental health services for Chicagoans. He called for significant city investment in creating a network of 50 neighborhood mental health providers that would deliver services to all residents regardless of health insurance status, immigration status or ability to pay.

And we’re here to tell you, as providers who serve our communities every day: The strategy works.

Before the end of this year, the city expects to fund a mental health clinic in every Chicago neighborhood. The network, in 2022, will deliver services to 60,000 residents, as opposed to 3,600 residents in 2019.

This massive expansion of mental health services coincided with a sevenfold increase in the city’s mental health budget from $12 million in 2019 to $86 million in 2022.

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As frontline providers in our communities, sometimes for decades, we see all too clearly the tremendous need for mental health services at every age and in every area of ​​the city. The most under-resourced communities are hurting more from years of disinvestment, but make no mistake: trauma, substance use disorders, social conditions that affect health, anxiety, depression—all of these cross neighborhood boundaries. The odds don’t really care where you live or how much money you have.

What matters, and what has always mattered, is where and how quickly Chicagoans can get help, long-term prevention and support.

Because of the trust we’ve built in our communities—through accessibility, familiarity, convenience, and more—our programs can truly connect with our neighbors. We can provide a range of mental health services to adults, young people and families directly in their communities, often with people they know from their neighbourhood.

Here are just two examples of how increased city funding has improved our ability to serve patients:

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Alivio Medical Center, which has been providing behavioral health services in Chicago for 17 years, can now focus on integrating behavioral health with primary care and then expanding. Alivio also now has a diverse group of bilingual, bicultural providers, including at our three school health centers. And Alivio was able to increase access to services for financially challenged underinsured residents of South Lawndale and the Lower West Side.

Take the case of a 28-year-old Latina who sought psychiatric and behavioral health services this spring because of a history of struggles in school, work, and relationships. She didn’t have insurance or the ability to pay, but now receives ongoing support to deal with anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder. Her relationships and work performance have improved, as has her ability to manage her mental health symptoms.

In Habilitative Systems, Inc. on the West Side, city funding supports more services offered through a trauma-informed lens because it’s vital to address the impact that decades of disinvestment have had on neighborhood residents.

Services include intensive family intervention, care management and therapeutic services for youth and adults with mental health problems and those at risk or in crisis. Importantly, almost half of those employed by HabilitativeSystems live in the communities they serve.

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Through city funding, the Habilitative Systems team helped a patient who sought services due to severe anxiety and low self-esteem, providing therapy that helped the patient achieve her goals of returning to school and managing her anxiety symptoms. The patient had a history of trauma and with the support of her therapist, she was able to acknowledge the role of trauma in her life and learn how to engage in the healing process.

Our city’s budget must continue to provide funds to support our vital work. Your neighbors depend on it.

Donald Dew is the President and CEO of Habilitative Systems, Inc. Ester Corpuz is the chief executive officer of Alivio Medical Center.

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