Social Worker Shares Intimate Stories from Chicago’s Mental Health System

What is the connection between mental health, trauma and Chicago’s high homicide rate?

A new book by Jonathan Foiles aims to answer that question. Foiles, a social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital on Chicago’s West Side, highlights the stories and struggles of five of his patients in “This City is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America.”

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“When you hear about [issues with Chicago’s mental health care system] in the news, when you read stories about, that’s one thing. But hearing people’s stories and seeing the first-hand impact, that’s another level altogether,” Foiles said.

In 2012, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed six community mental health centers. Foiles said he wanted to “put a face” to the impact of those types of decisions.

“I think a lot of people are aware of the issues but don’t know what the on-the-ground impact is,” he said.

In his book, Foiles details the cases of five patients; he says he gravitated towards one in particular.

“Jaqueline is a transgender patient I treat who’s stereotypically diagnosed with borderline personality disorder … and she’s also one of the patients [who previously attended] a clinic closed by [Emanuel],” he said.

“I think she has experienced trauma on many different levels and remains vulnerable because of the fact that she’s in the middle of transitioning and she’s someone I worked with a lot,” he said.

Foiles said the purpose of the book is simple: to open readers’ eyes to a complex issue.

“I love Chicago but I think there are certain stories that get highlighted and others that don’t, so I hope people leave with a better sense of what people on the South and West sides are going through,” he said.

You can read an excerpt from “This City is Killing Me” here.

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