Chicago Mental Health Task Force To Hold Public Hearing | WBEZ
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Chicago Mental Health Task Force To Hold Public Hearing

Updated at 3:39 p.m.

Chicago aldermen hold a public forum Thursday to hear from residents on how the city could improve mental health services. Thursday’s forum follows a City Council resolution adopted in January that calls for a reexamination of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close six public mental health clinics in 2012, a decision that led to a large public outcry.

Diane Adams said those closures made it harder for her to stay in the therapy she started after the murder of her son.

“Therapy taught me about my medicine, my illness, that’s why I am able to make good decisions now,” said Adams.

She said she plans to attend the public hearing and tell aldermen that she worries many people like her, who need to deal with trauma, cannot afford mental health services and that they need better access to public clinics.

The Chicago Department of Public Health did not return a request for comment, but department officials historically defended the closures.

The resolution that created the mental health task force quoted WBEZ reporting, which found that the areas of the city with the least mental health services also have the most calls to 911 for mental health help.

In 2018, 911 dispatchers in Chicago identified an average of about 150 mental health calls a day. Those calls sometimes end with police officers using force. By one estimate, about a quarter of all police shootings nationally involve a person in mental distress. The Police Department has expanded training for police officers, but advocates have said that in many situations, police are not the best people to send.

“Most of the time these calls don’t need a police officer, there just isn't anybody else,” Amy Watson, a former probation officer and researcher at University of Illinois, told WBEZ in February.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson agreed that police are often not the ideal responders to some mental health calls.

“In a perfect world we should not be, but we are not in a perfect world, we are in the environment we live in,” Johnson told reporters at a press conference on mental health training for police in May.

“Being a cop for 31 years, and being a district commander in one of our more challenging districts in the city, I learned really quickly that people that are seeking mental health treatment, they won’t go far from home to get that treatment," Johnson said. "So we need to do a better job of putting those resources closer to where they live so they can actually access those resources.” 

Mental health activists say they plan to attend Thursday night’s forum and provide testimony about how the lack of mental health services has hurt their communities.

The forum begins at 6 p.m. at Malcolm X College.

Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the City Council action that led to Thursday’s forum. The council passed a resolution.

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