Jul 27, 2022 - News

Chicago makes dramatic strides in mental health funding

Illustration of a spotlight shining on a brain.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

After inheriting a highly criticized mental health system, Mayor Lori Lightfoot aimed to boost mental health funding and expand access in her 2019 Framework for Mental Health Equity.

  • We talked to Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Allison Arwady last week to see how that plan is going.

Why it matters: A 2018 survey suggested that about 178,000 local adults needed mental health treatment in 2017 but didn’t get it.

  • And the pandemic has only increased mental health needs.

What she's saying: City-funded clinics served about 3,500 people in 2019. But this year, Arwady says, they're on track to serve 60,000 Chicagoans.

  • "That's regardless of their insurance status, their income, their immigration status or ability to pay," Arwady says.
  • But the biggest challenge remains the workforce. "We don't have enough mental health professionals," she says, "especially those that look like Chicago across all types of health care."

What's more: CDPH officials say the department has increased its mental health spending by seven times since 2019 and has a 2022 budget of $89 million.

The intrigue: We recently talked with incarcerated people at Stateville Correctional Center who suggested curbing gun violence through comprehensive trauma care.

  • Arwady agrees and says the city has launched mobile services that bring "trauma-informed care," or TIC, to victims of direct and indirect violence.
  • "Instead of asking people, 'What's wrong with you?' … it's asking, 'What happened to you?' Or, 'How do we help you unpack that? How do we not inadvertently bring up memories that can retraumatize you after an event?'"

What's next: The commissioner says that by the end of the year, her department plans to have at least one city-funded mental health clinic in all 77 neighborhoods.


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