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COVID-19 Equality Illinois town hall emphasizes need for mental-health services
by Matt Simonette
2020-05-14

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The coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation that has followed only exacerbated the need for robust mental-health resources for area residents, according to two local advocates.

Matt Richards, deputy commissioner of behavioral health at Chicago Department of Public Health ( CDPH ); and Mark Ishaug, CEO of the mental-health agency Thresholds, were featured speakers at Equality Illinois' May 12 online town-hall meeting.

"What COVID did was expose the challenges that our 10,000 clients experience every day," said Ishaug, who also noted that feelings of isolation, disruption of routine and anxiety around the virus were pervasive in American society.

Richards said that the city's five mental-health facilities have remained open during the pandemic. Those are making a hastened transition to telehealth services when allowable, he added, further noting that CDPH has been "thinking about digital supports that we have not historically provided" in delivery of mental-health services.

Government officials and other influential stakeholders tend to regard "mental health" as the presence or absence of mental illness. Many providers prefer the idea be addressed more holistically and integrally to measure clients' wellbeing, Richards added.

But that means service providers need to be conscientious of the assumptions they make about their clients' resources, especially since those are increasingly taxed by a medical and economic catastrophe. Ishaug noted, for example, that Thresholds moved its client base to telehealth service delivery when possible, but many of those clients were using pre-paid government mobile phones with limited amounts of minutes.

Homeless persons, incarcerated individuals and persons subject to racially and socio-economically motivated inequities are among those most vulnerable to mental-health complications, both Richards and Ishaug explained.

Richards said "big thinking" was needed from stakeholders to get around funding and logistical complications that will surely appear in the months ahead, particularly with regards to housing services.

Ishaug said that the state government has been helpful in allowing Thresholds to continue and modify its operations. Nevertheless, he added, "This is going to require the state and federal governments to step up" in order that service-providers continue operating.

Richards and Ishaug also both addressed how COVID-influenced traumas will become issues for both clients and service providers in the months and years. Ishaug urged everyone in the community, in the meantime, to be kind and treat one another with patience.

"We're in this for the long haul," he said.


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