Chicago's mental health clinic closings: 20 months later

by @balloutd December 26, 2013 1:41PM ET

Controversy over mental health access continues after Chicago closed half its outpatient clinics in 2012.

Mental Illness
Protester at Chicago's City Hall during a April 9, 2013 demonstration calling for the reopening of city's closed mental health clinics.
Sarah Jane Rhee/Flickr
The Stream (Al Jazeera)

It has been 20 months since the city of Chicago closed six of its 12 mental health clinics, and while officials point to an increased number of patients, better access to care and increased capacity since the consolidation, some protesters and mental health advocates claim the closings are hurting affected communities.

N’Dana Carter, featured in the following audio clip earlier this year during a march on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house, says the clinics were closed in high-crime areas, where easy access to care was sorely needed.

“People have fallen off the map,” Carter said. “Some former patients I see standing around parking lots.”

As a result of the closings and despite the city’s assertions of success, Carter says access to mental health clinics has been impeded by longer travel times, overcapacity and insurance limitations. Her own therapy sessions at the Greater Lawn clinic have been reduced from once a week to once a month.

In addition, Carter claims that crime in these areas –specifically South Side Chicago— has increased as a result of the closings.

Below is an intensity map of 2013 crime statistics in Chicago, showing which outpatient clinics have been closed and which remain open. In South Side Chicago, four of eight clinics were shut down.  By using the layers tab on the right, homicides in those areas can also be viewed in timeline form for the past 12 months. Clicking on the dots will reveal information on the clinics. 

The city's 2012 consolidation was criticized by many, leading to protests outside clinics and City Hall (images in slideshow by Sarah Jane Rhee). During one incident, five people were arrested at City Hall for breaking through the barricade on April 30, 2012 – the day the final clinic closing was scheduled.

In a video produced by advocacy group STOP Chicago, patients expressed frustration with the closings, some noting they will no longer seek service due to the longer commute time. 

Despite opposition from advocates, the City’s November report shows over 1,000 new patients receiving care and expanded psychiatric services since the consolidation.

According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Illinois reduced its mental health budget by $62.2 million between 2011 and 2012, and by $187 million between 2009 and 2013. Another report shows 7.7% of Illinois adults have a severe mental illness in 2013. Ten percent of children have a serious emotional disturbance, impairing their ability to learn, and 32% of the 14,000 homeless in Illinois are severely mentally ill.