Chicago’s Mental Health Policies are Criminal

Chicagoans desperate for mental health services are deliberately committing petty crimes and getting arrested because the only place they can get the medication they need is in jail! That is the sad state of affairs for mental health in Chicago, as detailed in the WBEZ piece “Mental Health 911”, which reported:

One staff member at the jail said a guy told him he had gotten arrested for shoplifting on purpose. The man said he was a patient at Tinley Park Mental Health Center and when that closed, the only place he knew to get medication was in jail. He said he hated being locked up. But he hated being actively psychotic more.

The report also detailed the fact that areas of the city with the most mental health calls have the least mental health services! Unsurprisingly, to those who are familiar with the rampant segregation and reduced public services in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, districts with a high volume of calls but few mental health facilities, are largely Black and Latino.

northern illinois hospital for the insane

This is the architect’s drawing of the first building at the Elgin Mental Health Center, then called the Northern Illinois Hospital for the Insane. Under construction from 1870 to 1874, it was designed to accommodate 300 patients. The building was vacated in 1973. (ElginHistory.com)

Chicago has never had an effective mental health policy. In the early ’70s, consistent with national trends, and related to the availability of anti-psychotic drugs, Illinois began closing mental hospitals. They were horrible places but the state replaced them with virtually nothing, so that mentally ill people were left to their own devices on the streets or—if they were lucky—in one of the few nursing homes or other facilities. The decline in mental health services continued and in 2012 Rahm Emanuel shut down half of the remaining 12 public mental health clinics.

In fighting for a just Chicago, the CTU demands the services that people need, not just ones that create profit.

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About Carol Caref

Carol Caref taught high school mathematics in CPS for 26 years before coming to work at the Chicago Teachers Union as a researcher. She has been involved in anti-racist, anti-capitalist struggles since her teens.

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