Closures of Public Mental Health Facilities in Chicago Brings Protests & Arrests

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is under fire for the recent closure of the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic and the city’s growing list of publicly funded mental health closures slated for later this year.  According to NBC Chicago, police arrested 23 Woodland Mental Health Clinic patients, workers and supporters who had barricaded themselves inside the clinic in protest.  The supporters, who are a part of the Mental Health Movement group, said that this latest closure in a series of public health clinic closures around the US is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, “The closure of mental health clinics is not a budget issue.  It’s not a policy issue. For us it’s a matter of life or death.” Said Toussant Losier of the Mental Health Movement.

In a move to cut city budgets and reduce excessive spending several cities, including Chicago and New York, have moved towards drastically reducing the number of publicly-funded mental health clinics.  Michigan has also experienced significant reductions in publicly funded mental health care facilities in the past under Governor John Engler.  Since then, the state has been overwhelmed and unable to properly accommodate citizens needing inpatient mental health treatment, which has resulted in an overburdened outpatient community mental health system and emergency rooms unable to care for the severely mentally ill who have nowhere else to go.

As reported by NBC Chicago, the closures raise fears that if these public mental health clinics closures continue, cities could soon see a rapid increase in untreated drug addiction, increased suicide rates and other serious mental problems.  And it isn’t just caretakers and medical personnel who have these concerns – it’s also concerning to patients as well. “These people with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, depression, serious depression, they’re willing to barricade themselves in their own clinic to not only send a message but to try to find a way to keep that clinic open,” a supporter told NBC Chicago.

While city governments work to balance their budgets, it’s important to remember the total cost of shutting down public mental health facilities.  In terms of the budget, closing clinics does save on administrative costs and the cost of operations overall, but this savings doesn’t carry over in the long term.  Closing mental health clinics throughout the US will inevitably lead to increased emergency room visits, hospitalizations and more police intervention and arrests of mentally ill citizens, as those who can’t afford private healthcare forgo medical treatment for serious mental health conditions.

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