Mental health centers deserve more attention

By Molly Lynch

In times of economic despair, one of the most devastating effects is when members of minority communities are displaced—for reasons that could have been easily prevented in the first place.

Over the past few months, plans to close a third of Chicago’s mental health clinics were revealed, most notably four clinics on the city’s South Side due to budgetary reasons, leaving low-income minority residents with nowhere to go to receive the help they deserve.

Though the clinics reopened their doors on April 20 after Mayor Richard M. Daley granted a temporary halt to the closures—a definite step in the right direction—it still doesn’t mask the reality that too many people suffering from mental health issues are left ignored.

For many patients, these centers serve as a lifeline. Closing them would abandon those who use them regularly. By not being consistent in keeping the doors to these facilities open, patients are forced with the option of finding treatment elsewhere. This brings up many questions about the accessibility of services if they are located in other parts of the city. For some patients trying to get to another clinic, this would mean a two-hour bus ride, which is hardly a satisfactory option.

With the economy already struggling, the amount of mental health issues (particularly in areas of lower income residents) are staggering. According to an April 22 Chi-Town Daily News article, the city’s mental health centers have seen their funding decrease within the past year. Though Daley blocked the closures, several problems exist, like complicated statewide budgeting issues and the city’s mental health facilities failing to bill the state properly.

In the same article, it was reported that mental health advocates are looking to expand services to the city’s North Side. While it’s commendable that expansion is on the mind of these advocates, shouldn’t we be worrying about the communities that need it most, like residents of the South Side?

More than 2,000 people would be affected by the closures of the four South Side facilities, according to an April 8 Medill News report. Whether or not it seems like a large number, it doesn’t change the fact that those suffering from a mental illness, especially those in minority communities, are the brunt of receiving negative stigma and are, all too often, not taken seriously enough. When times are tough, it seems as if the first part of health care that goes is mental health.

It seems as if the mention of mental health care is left out of the vocabulary of many federal and state lawmakers. While progress is slowly being made, Americans boast a long history of having negative attitudes about mental health.

A U.S. Public Health Service study indicated that minorities in America face severe economic and cultural barriers for treatment of mental illness, preventing thousands from being properly treated.

According to the city’s STOP organization (Southside Together Organizing for Power), a community group that advocates for lower-income and working-class residents on the South Side, mental health facilities are increasingly under threat as gentrification goes up and budgets are cut.

It is due time for people to get the help they deserve without being worried if a much-needed service will be taken away from them. And considering that Illinois’ mental health system received a “D” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a reliable—and permanent—solution is a must.

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