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#JamesDonaldson on #MentalHealth – Seeing Rise In #Suicides Among #Black Cook County Residents, City Officials And #MentalHealthExperts Work On Outreach

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By ALISON BOWEN

Judith Allen, clinical director of Communities in Schools of Chicago, provides mental health first aid workshops for parents, teachers and anyone who wants to take one.
Judith Allen, clinical director of Communities in Schools of Chicago, provides #mentalhealth first aid workshops for #parents, #teachers and anyone who wants to take one. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

#Mentalhealthchallenges among young and older #Black Chicagoans were amplified in 2020 by the disproportionate impact of #COVID-19 and trauma from #police brutality.

With 97 #Black Cook County residents dying by #suicide last year, ranging in age from 9 to 84, according to the medical examiner’s office, city officials and #mentalhealthadvocates say they have been working on ways to respond.

Dr. Wilnise Jasmin, medical director of #behavioralhealth for the Chicago Department of Public Health, says the city has been planning an awareness campaign aimed at decreasing #stigma around #mentalillness that will launch in late spring or early summer.

Using billboards and bus stop ads are among its efforts to increase awareness, says Jasmin. The city also plans to fund #mentalhealth response teams that will travel to meet #patients and serve predominantly #Black and #Latino neighborhoods.

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

One way local groups are helping is by training people to recognize signs of #mentalhealthissues. Late last year, for example, the #NationalAllianceonMentalIllness (#NAMI) Chicago offered trainings targeting faith-based communities.

“We have to be building the community support,” said chief operating officer Jen McGowan-Tomke.

Five #Black Cook County residents have died by #suicide this year; last year’s number was the highest total for a single year in more than a decade, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report. The rise in #suicides among #Black Chicagoans has forced a renewed look at #mentalhealthoutreach and support.

“It feels like there’s a moment where everyone’s talking about #mentalhealth in a way that we haven’t before,” said Colleen Cicchetti, executive director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital, who says there’s an urgency to invest more resources and come up with new ideas on reaching people who might be at risk.

#Suicide is a complex issue, one that is never rooted in any one factor, says Cicchetti. A #suicideprevention strategic plan released in 2020 by the Illinois Department of Public Health noted circumstances surrounding #suicide may include many factors — alienation, loss of connectedness, interpersonal or life stressors, grief, illness. The report said #suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 in Illinois.

And the report noted #Black residents face extra stressors, including institutional and individual #racism.

“#Black people consistently receive messages from society that they are to be under suspicion for being violent criminals and that their bodies have no value and can be subjected to violence and violation at any time,” the report stated. “These racist messages can lead to negative self-perceptions and doubts about their value and place in the world, especially in young #Black #boys.”

Judith Allen, chief operating officer of Communities in #Schools of Chicago, a nonprofit working to increase graduation rates, has been offering #mentalhealth workshops to #teachers, principals and #parents.

Within the #Black community, she said, “We’re talking about a population where talking is not an easy thing. Sharing your weaknesses is not an easy thing to do. There’s a sort of cultural identity aspect of being private, but also being strong and being able to withstand just about anything.”

Allen added, “You put that together with what’s happening in the world right now, you put that in combination with what happened last summer in terms of #racial inequity and #racial injustice, it begins to be too much.”

One of her courses trains adults to recognize when #kids need help.

“When we have #children that are struggling with an issue, sometimes parents will minimize it, or it’ll get mislabeled as a #behavioral issue,” she said.

Even before the #pandemic, the Health Department report found the #suicide rate in #Black #boys ages 5 to 11 had doubled since 2003, and #Black #boys were more likely than other youth to show depressive symptoms after seeing videos and reports of #police brutality against #Black people.

Data from Lurie researchers assessing high schoolers before the #pandemic found #Black youth were more likely to be considering or attempting #suicide. Among Illinois youth surveyed in 2019, 14 percent of #Black #highschoolstudents said they had attempted #suicide, compared to 7 percent of white #students and 12 percent of #Hispanic students.

Now, as #COVID-19 means children are facing social isolation, as well as #anxiety over whether family members will become ill and potentially die, Cicchetti said reaching out and reducing #stigma is even more vital.

“We’ve got to do a better job of identifying kids who are hurting and helping,” Cicchetti said.

Cicchetti’s team created a Stress & Coping Toolkit being piloted in some CPS middle school classrooms. Because supporting teachers is key to supporting #children, Cicchetti said they have created a Virtual Learning Community resource on recognizing trauma and self-care that more than 4,000 Illinois teachers have used.

Jasmin said the city sought input from #teenagers for its awareness campaign, finding out, for example, that #teenagers were more apt to seek help through texting. She said the city also boosted funds to community based and federally qualified health centers that provide #mentalhealthservices, which may help hire more therapists.

City clinics provide #mentalhealthsupport regardless of people’s ability to pay or their citizenship status; people can search the Chicago Connects by ZIP code to find individual therapy options.

This is important, Jasmin said, not only for the current need but also as a proactive safety net when the #pandemic ebbs.

“As things normalize, it wouldn’t surprise me if we would see an actual increased need for #mentalhealthservices, as people are able to take the time to feel the effects,” Jasmin said.

McGowan-Tomke said it is important to focus on community support and remember help is available.

“We lose sight of hope when those challenges occur,” she said. “There is support, and there is help available.”

The CDC offers the #NationalSuicidePreventionLifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) and a crisis chat.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers options, including a National Helpline that is free and available 24/7 at 800-662-HELP (4357).

abowen@chicagotribune.com

man in white crew neck t shirt sitting with his kids
Photo by KoolShooters on Pexels.com
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