The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Activists Put 'Body Bags' In Front Of Rahm's Office To Call For Mental Health Services

By aaroncynic in News on Feb 23, 2016 9:02PM

Activists with the Mental Health Movement outside the mayor's office on the 5th floor of City Hall. Photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist

Activists allied with the Mental Health Movement are spending Tuesday outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on the 5th floor of City Hall to highlight the impact the lack of mental health services available in Chicago has had on communities that need care.

Community members hit hardest by Emanuel's decision to shutter half the city's mental health clinics in 2012 along with advocates and activists set up what they dubbed the “body bag project” in order to put pressure on the mayor and City Council to pay closer attention to the crisis, along with a call for support for legislation proposed earlier this month called the Mental Health Safety Net ordinance. Standing in a circle with two large trash bags attached to lawn chairs, activists shared their stories with each other, and encouraged people to write their own story and submit it to their “body bags” they said they would later deliver to the mayor.

“The reason we're using black plastic bags is because the mayor has trashed our lives,” said N'Dana Carter, an organizer with the Mental Health Movement and a consumer at one of the remaining clinics. “He put us in one black plastic bag and just threw us away in a dumpster. A lot of us are just sitting or just laying across a pile of trash, waiting to die.”

Speaking to the larger group, Carter then shared a painful and graphic story of how she was affected when she was searched and detained by Chicago Police when she and other activists occupied the Woodlawn clinic, one of the six closed by Emanuel:

“When people tell you stories, sometimes you begin to remember those stories and relate to something similar that happened to you,” she said.

Since the clinic closures, advocates say that not only have several patients receiving care died because of lack of access to a nearby clinic, but that the current clinics are understaffed. According to an April 2015 WBEZ report, emergency room visits have skyrocketed since 2009, with a 37 percent increase in discharges. Additionally, the lack of services has contributed to many situations involving those suffering mental illness and police, which has caused Cook County Jail to be the city's “largest mental health care provider,” according to Sheriff Tom Dart.

N'Dana Carter of the Mental Health Movement speaks to supporters outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office at City Hall. Photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist

Both the closure of her clinic in Auburn Gresham and a lack of psychiatrists brought Diane Adams to City Hall Tuesday morning. “We made these bags because the mayor takes us and throws us away,” she said. “We made these to show how important mental health is to us.”

Adams, who took two buses to her clinic in Auburn Gresham, said since the closure, she has to take three buses and a train to receive treatment. According to the Sun-Times, advocates say psychiatrists are only available a handful of hours a day. “We want the six clinics we have now fully staffed. A psychiatrist in each one,” said Adams.

A pamphlet handed out by the group, featuring stories and poetry from mental health consumers highlighting their hardships also encouraged those who shared their stories to both follow up with the Mayor's office and City Council members, as well as supporting the Mental Health Safety Net ordinance, the Health Commissioner would have 6 months to enter into contracts with 3 managed care networks to provide more services, and 4 months to ensure adequate staffing of psychiatrists. The commissioner would also be charged with conducting “activities as necessary to increase awareness of mental health issues and of services available at city mental health centers,” with an emphasis on communities impacted by violence. According to the pamphlet:

“In undeserved, poor and communities of color residents do not receive any form of grief counseling when exposed to trauma. Mental health education is very needed.”

Speaking at a press conference earlier this month, Ald. Jason Ervin, who voted in favor of the clinic closures yet is a co-sponsor of the ordinance recalled the correlation between some high profile cases of police killing civilians and mental health. ““The last set of incidents in our city — namely Laquan McDonald and the Quintonio LeGrier — were clear issues where mental health was definitely the reason why these calls were made,” said Ervin.