Newly opened community center fights mental health stigma

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Clinical social care worker Desirie McKay speaks about how to recognize signs of trauma and the behavioral hazards of being exposed to violence.

There’s a longstanding stigma against seeking help when dealing with trauma or other issues related to mental health, especially in the African-American community.

Community member Tanya Ford has experienced this stigma firsthand.

At a recent forum held at the West Side Community Triage and Wellness Center, at 4133 W. Madison St., Ford recounted the experience she had said about six years ago when a close family member struggled with mental health but was unwilling to take medication because of that stigma.

If the stigma did not exist and the family member was able to obtain proper treatment, their eventual death in a shooting may have been prevented, she said.

This week’s forum was aimed at breaking that stigma and encouraging residents to seek the help they need.

The wellness center, which opened in August under the operation of Habilitative Systems Inc. and the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center, gathered doctors, psychologists and community center workers together to provide resources for those who have experienced trauma or mental health issues, and correct misconceptions about methods of treatment like counseling or medications.

Speakers included representatives from the PCC Wellness Center and Lawndale Christian Health Center ― both of which partner with the recently opened wellness center.

Presentations provided information about the effects of trauma on children and communities, methods of managing stress and trauma, and ways to care for those affected by trauma.

About 30 people, including speakers, attended what was the center’s first public event.

Habilitative Systems Inc. Chief Operating Officer Dr. Karen Barbee-Dixon said she hoped the information provided would influence the ways audience members think and underscore the impact communities and partners can have.

Dr. Karen Barbee-Dixon speaking at this week’s forum.

Rep. La Shawn Ford, who hosted the event, asked audience members to recommend the center to those who could benefit from it in the same way they would recommend a good restaurant or ice cream shop.

“This center is here for us to tell our neighbors and our family members about so that we can receive we can receive the necessary behavioral health support,” Ford said.

Jennifer Forbes, clinical director at the Bobby Wright, provided information about services the wellness center provides. In addition to connecting people to mental health, substance abuse, housing, employment services and more, Forbes said the center also has a mobile team connected through a hotline number to assist individuals who can’t make it to the center.

“We want the community to know about this and use this resource,” Forbes said. “We want this to be an access hub. So when people come in, because we are so connected with so many partners and links, we can connect them with services throughout the Chicagoland area, not just the West Side.”

Austin resident John Halmon discussed his own experience being raised in a violent household and how two of his sons have been non-fatally shot. Halmon said his childhood left him with trauma but that he is uncomfortable discussing it outside of his church community and that it can be difficult to seek the help of a professional.

Longtime West Side resident Bertha Purnell discussed her own struggle handling the trauma from her son being shot and killed in June 2017. Purnell said she dealt with the trauma every day but was unwilling to seek help until she reached a crisis point. Oftentimes, people have to step outside of their comfort zone to get the help they need, she said.

“In the black community as whole, there has always been a stigma that you don’t go outside your house and tell your business,” Purnell said. “There’s also a stigma about medication, but we need to get to the point where we are nursed by education.”

Barbee said the event would be the first of many to come. She also encouraged attendants to spread word of the center and to make use of the facility for individual and community wide development.

“It’s my hope that we and those of us that participated will continue to spread the word,” Barbee said. “Community violence affects us all, and it’s going to take us all to come up with a true solution to this problem in our community.”

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