Photo essay: Mental health clinic closures - the faces of austerity

For most of the 75 people holding a sit-in outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office Monday, the fight against the closing of half of the city’s mental health centers is only the visible part of their battle.

The other battle is inside. As person after person spoke Monday, they said they would not be able to fight for these services today if they hadn’t been beneficiaries of them themselves in the past.

In the more than six hours they were camped out on the fifth floor of City Hall, the demonstrators sang protests songs adapted for the mental health movement and shared the names of those they knew and loved who had died from mental illness in one way or another.

And then, after a crowded press conference, several members of the group were arrested when they left the barrier and walked towards Emanuel’s office. Their efforts, however valiant, did not stop the planned closure of the last four mental health centers Monday.

On Tuesday, Chicago woke up to only six mental health clinics versus the 12 it started the year with. Here are some of the people who say their health will be affected by the closures:

Jean Lawrence

Lawrence, 76, was in an art therapy group she loved at the Northtown Rogers Park Mental Health Clinics before it shut its doors on April 9th. Since then, she hasn’t been to a therapist. Instead, “I’ve been involved in this.” Lawrence called the cuts “devastating. I think that it’s really a crime not to have a safety net for poor and working people.”

Horace Howard

You’ll most likely hear Howard’s booming voice before you see him, shuffling forward with his walker. Howard’s clinic was the Woodlawn Mental Health Center, site of the two-week long demonstration. A sufferer of bipolar disorder, he was arrested a couple of hours after this photo was taken for attempting to go into Emanuel’s office.

“I’m going to jail so that somebody else won’t go to jail, who might have an episode when they don’t have these services. Somebody else may go to jail for being in an abandoned building, or may go to jail for being self-medicated. If I have to go to jail to stop that and try to make an impact on the decision of Rahm Emanuel to back mental health services, so be it.”

Debbie Delgado

Delgado lost a son to gang violence on November 26, 2006. He died in the arms of her other son who now, says Delgado, is afraid to go outside for fear of bullets and has been diagnosed with PTSD. Since their local mental health center, Northtown Rogers Park, was closed, she has yet to convince her surviving son to venture out to another clinic. She came to protest for her son, as well as “for the Hispanic community.” Service users with trouble understanding English, and who have to travel, will be at a disadvantage for receiving health care, said Delgado. She was one of 23 activists arrested for occupying the Woodlawn Mental Health Center earlier in April. 

N’Dana Carter

Carter has been with the Mental Health Movement for three and a half years, and has struggled with depression since she was seven years old. She was one of the 23 people that were arrested in the first attempted occupation of the Woodlawn Mental Health Center. She says that, without exaggeration, closing clinics and charging people the $165 she says it costs to visit other clinics will mean they “simply die. You have nowhere else to go.”

Jesus Campuzano

Campuzano doesn’t rely on mental health care services from the city of Chicago. Instead, he goes to Metropolitan Family Services. But he came out Monday to “be here in solidarity and support the movement.” He worries about how people with mental illness will function: “without mental health services, this city will be chaos.”

© Community Renewal Society 2012
Photo credit: Mario Garcia-Baeza


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