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Mattie Quinn/Bridget Gainer, Uptown Community: Health Needs Assessment Survery

In a 2010 study, 22 percent of hospitalizations in Uptown were mental health related. For the entire city, it is only 8 percent.

No easy solution for Uptown's mentally ill population

by Mattie Quinn
Jan 16, 2013

Mental health is now dominating the national conversation following the Newtown massacres, but one Chicago alderman is taking the opportunity to draw attention to the high concentration of mentally ill in his Uptown ward.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said last month he gave Cook County, the City of Chicago and the state of Illinois “a D-minus on their ability to provide coordinated care for people living with chronic mental illness.”

“What we’ve found is that there are a lot of people going from place to place but getting no real care,” said Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff. “ There are a lot of duplicate programs in the area, but also real gaps in mental health service. Since June we’ve been getting a group of service providers together to identify the gaps and fix the high concentration of mentally ill in Uptown.”

With the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in the early 1970s, including Dunning State Hospital on the Far West Side of Chicago, many newly released patients took the Irving Park bus east and rode it to the end of line to Uptown, and put down roots.

“It’s really hard to say why Uptown is continually a hub for the mentally ill,” said Rich Hatfield, vice president of business development for the Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago. “I think once a concentration starts, it will just continue to expand. Like once an ethnic group settles in a particular area, that is where they stay.”


“For example,” Hatfield continued, “ a 60-year-old probably isn’t going to move to Bucktown because that is where the 20-and-30-year-olds are.”

A 2010 study by Bridget Gainer, the Cook County Commissioner for the 10th district, found that 22 percent of hospitalizations in Uptown were due to mental health issues, compared to 8 percent for the entire city of Chicago.

With the recent consolidations of mental health clinics, including two closures in the Uptown area, the problem does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

“The resources out there are shrinking,” said Marcy Darin, communications manager for Community Counseling Centers of Chicago. “We used to be able to accept the uninsured, but now we can only do that in times of crisis. So the only recourse for the working poor to get help is to go to the ER. People are also now having to travel to get the help they need, and people are just far less likely to get help if they have to take two or three buses.”