The epidemic of violence continues to destroy families and communities in Chicago. We need mental health support to match the police deployment on the South and West sides of Chicago.
At least 108 people were shot and 19 killed in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. This compares with last year during the pandemic, when more than 60 people were shot and 17 killed over the 2020 Fourth of July weekend, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Whenever there are killings in schools or workplaces, trauma support is routinely sent in to help the people directly impacted by the acts of violence. But there has been little to no mental health response for the people affected by violence in our communities.
I believe in the public health approach to violence, which sees violence as being preventable not inevitable. We must curb violence and stop it before it starts. Preventing violence is not solely a punitive approach.
We need a comprehensive approach to prevent violence, starting with immediate deployment of state, county and city of health departments to organize and bring in mental health support for the communities impacted by ongoing violence. Communities like Austin.
We must strengthen the work of violence interrupters who are working now by augmenting their work with mental health outreach trauma workers.
Although Black and Latino people have similar rates of behavioral health disorders as the general population, they have much less access to mental health and substance use treatment services, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
In 2018, 69.4% of Black and 67.1% of Hispanic adults with any mental illness reported receiving no treatment the previous year compared with 56.7% of the overall U.S. population, according to a recent SAMHSA report.
And we must not stigmatize those with mental illnesses. Studies have repeatedly shown the majority of individuals with mental illness are not violent and the majority of violent acts are not committed by those with mental illness, according to a 2020 review by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA).
The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, one of the most robust and detailed studies examining the link between mental illness and risk for violence, found those with mental illness had no greater risk of violence than those without mental illness.
I like to quote Rashad K. Saafir, president & CEO of the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health, because what he says is so important: “It is time that we recognize that violence in Black and Brown communities is deeply rooted in historical and cultural factors including racism and ethnocultural discrimination.
“These factors have produced social and environmental conditions that impair the ability of some Black and Brown people to contribute productively to the community.”
So, what can be done? The American Psychological Association notes that factors such as a person’s family, career and home environment can reduce risk of violence. Other protective factors may include religious beliefs, positive peer relationships and involvement in pro-social activities.
For those with mental illness, the strongest protective factor may be effective behavioral health treatment. What is considered effective may vary from person to person, but effective treatment plans often include psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle changes (like exercising and eating healthy), illness self-management (such as developing coping skills and setting goals for recovery) and support groups.
Violence is something that impacts all of us directly or indirectly, and it will take all of us working together to save lives in Chicago by paying attention to treatment and protective factors, while effectively bringing trauma care to the families that have been so greatly affected by violence.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford represents Austin in the Illinois House of Representatives.