December 5, 2022

For about a year, Evanston’s elected officials have been working to address health care professionals’ concerns about a lack of adequate mental health resources in the city. 

Though Monday marked World Mental Health Day, Patti Capouch, chief executive officer at Impact Behavioral Health Partners, said there are still not enough options available for those experiencing mental health crises in Evanston.

“There’s transition … with not having a city manager and having new council members,” she said. “The city honestly hasn’t really funded mental health services on a consistent basis.”

Still, Capouch said mental health resources have become an increasing priority for City Council in recent months. Last spring, Evanston allocated $900,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding toward a “Living Room,” a no-cost walk-in and call-in resource center for adults experiencing mental health crises.

But a fully operational Living Room is far from opening.

“I think that they have requests for proposals that are due this month, and that’s something that we’ve been lacking,” Capouch said. “I’m excited to see they’re finally looking to restore some services that might have been lost with some funding decisions.”

In August, Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare’s crisis emergency response program began operating full-time, meaning Illinois residents can access a free mobile crisis line any time of day. Evanston invested in the program, which maintains a relationship with the Evanston Police Department. 

At Evanston’s last City Council meeting, Trilogy officials presented on the program’s progress, successes and challenges.

“We do offer mobile responses any time of day, any day of the year,” Chris Mayer, clinical director of crisis services with Trilogy Behavioral Health, said at the meeting. “Our partnership (with EPD), I believe, is strong … they have the highest engagement of any police agency.” 

Some community members have expressed concern that police may respond to excess calls to Trilogy, which could further escalate certain situations and not ultimately serve the person in crisis.  

Though emergency services like the Living Room and Trilogy are crucial, Capouch said it’s also important for Evanston residents to have access to more long-term counseling and therapy options.

Some mental healthcare agencies in Evanston have waiting lists of 200 to 300 people, she said, so it’s important for the city to invest in systems that follow up on immediate care. Capouch said she works on providing long-term care to her clients at Impact Behavioral Health Partners. 

“It’s very difficult for folks who need therapy to get it,” Capouch said. “We look at participants and how we can help them live independently.” 

Mental healthcare providers at Impact work to understand their client’s long-term goals, Capouch said. Consistent investment in long-term mental healthcare could make a big difference in the city, she added. 

The city currently contracts with AMITA Health St. Francis Hospital to provide free support, education and counseling. It has also advertised additional resources including Call 4 Calm, a free emotional support text line, as well as forthefrontlines.org, a website for healthcare professionals and essential workers.

However, most of these resources do not serve children experiencing mental health crises. Diana Samano, a social worker at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, said the pandemic has largely increased anxiety in children. 

“They see a lot of people in public wearing masks, and they’re not used to that,” she said. “You have to reassure them.”

North Shore Pediatric Therapy works directly with children facing mental health concerns and refers patients to other services like speech or occupational therapy. But the program does not take Medicaid and only works with certain insurance policies, Samano said. 

Still, Capouch said she feels hopeful about the future of mental healthcare investment in the city. She worked with a coalition of healthcare providers to emphasize the importance of mental health at the start of the pandemic, and said the city has strengthened its commitment to resources since.  

“We wanted to come together to make sure that we were helping Evanston residents connect to services,” she said. “The pandemic has really brought mental health to the forefront, … Mental health is essential.”

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