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

The increase in city funding under Mayor Lori Lightfoot has helped create a mental health network that is serving more patients than ever.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses the city’s 2023 budget during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discusses the city’s 2023 budget during a City Council meeting on Nov. 7. Alderpersons approved the budget by a 32-18 vote.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and that’s a source of pride for our big urban city. When communities come together to support their schools, their safety and their health, relationships are built — and a big city becomes more manageable, friendlier and more familiar. 

Our status as a city of neighborhoods is one of the most powerful reasons why Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the Framework for Mental Health Equity in 2019, when her administration was looking at how to tackle the serious and growing need for mental health services for Chicago residents. It called for significant city investment in creating a network of 50 neighborhood mental health providers who would deliver services to all residents regardless of health insurance status, immigration status, or ability to pay. 

And we are here to tell you, as providers serving our communities every day: The strategy is working.

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

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

As providers on the front lines in our communities, sometimes for decades, we see all too clearly the vast need for mental health services at every age and in every area of the city. The most under-resourced communities are hurting more because of years of disinvestment, but make no mistake: trauma, substance use disorders, social conditions that affect health, anxiety, depression — all of these cross neighborhood boundaries. Adverse conditions 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 receive help, long-term prevention and support.

Because of the trust we have built in our communities — through outreach, 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 right in their own communities, often with people they know from their neighborhood.

Here’s just two examples of how the increase in city funding has improved our ability to serve patients:

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

Take the case of one 28-year-old Latina who sought psychiatric and behavioral health services this spring due to a history of struggles in school, work, and relationships. She had no insurance or ability to pay, but now she’s receiving ongoing support to address anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder. Her relationships and work performance have improved, and so has her ability to manage her mental health symptoms.

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

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Services include intensive family-based intervention, care management and therapeutic services for youth and adults with mental health issues and those at risk or in crisis. Importantly, nearly half of those employed at Habilitative Systems live in the communities they serve.

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 to return to school and manage symptoms of anxiety. The patient had a history of trauma, and with the support of her therapist, 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 funding to support our vital work. Your neighbors are depending on it. 

Donald Dew is president and CEO of Habilitative Systems, Inc. Esther Corpuz is chief executive officer of Alivio Medical Center.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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