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MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATES protested the closing of a city mental health clinic in the Woodlawn community on the South Side last year.
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Study addresses mental health issues in our community
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By Wendell Hutson
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Story Posted:04/20/2013

An 18-month study by the Adler School of Professional Psychology Institute on Social Exclusion showed that employment opportunities could increase if employers were prohibited from using arrest records during the hiring process.

The Chicago-based Adler School released a Mental Health Impact Assessment study this month that identified what impact its conclusions had on individuals and communities.

“Increased employability can help improve the collective mental health and well-being of Englewood residents. Specifically, it (could) increase the likelihood that people suffer less depression and psychological distress and feel a greater sense of connection with their community,” said Lynn Todman, the study’s principal investigator and executive director of the Institute on Social Exclusion (which means the act of rejecting someone from interpersonal interactions) at the Adler School. The goal of the study, explained Anthony Lowery, director of policy and advocacy at non-profit Safer Foundation, is to ensure that mental health effects are also considered in policy decisions being made. “When Lynn Todman brought this to my attention, it was revolutionary,” said Lowery, who served as a project advisor for the study. “It made me realize that we never looked at the big picture and examined how policies affect the mental health of our communities.”

Residents from the Englewood community were chosen to help select the focus on employment policy because jobs are hard to find in Englewood due in part to little to no economic development, said John Paul Jones, president of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, a neighborhood organization. Also a factor is the arrest rates for Blacks, which are two to three times their proportions of the national population, according to the study.

Recently the neighborhood group Mental Health Advocates protested at City Hall and asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to reopen six clinics he closed last year, two on the North Side and four on the South Side. According to Emanuel’s office they were closed due to budget constraints. The group protested to recognize the one-year anniversary of the clinics’ closing.

The study found that many arrests in Englewood do not result in convictions. And rarely do individuals in economically challenged communities get their arrests expunged due to a lack of resources. Additionally, the study revealed that when employers knowingly or unknowingly use arrest records in hiring, whether the person was convicted, there could be devastating effects on the mental health of the individual and the community.

While environmental, economic and physical health effects are often considered when shaping public policy, rarely is mental health factored, an essential element of healthy communities, according to the study. Community surveys, focus groups with residents and interviews with local employers and police officers were used to examine how proposed revisions would affect the lives and health of Englewood residents.

The study differs from other types of policy assessments, according to Todman, because it’s designed to engage communities in a prospective evaluation of policies that stand to affect their health. It is also intended to create more lasting change as residents are trained using a classroom setting on how to monitor and enforce policy changes, and how to educate fellow residents, according to the study.

The Adler School partnered with community groups, public health agencies and national advocacy organizations to involve Englewood residents. The residents volunteered to help create research questions, encouraged friends and neighbors to participate, were trained to conduct interviews for completing the assessment, gave suggestions for policy recommendations during town hall-style meetings, and followed up with neighbors and employers regarding the changes to the federal law.

The study concluded that updates to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission policies as it pertains to hiring could improve individual and community mental health by not only increasing employment opportunities and income but also decreasing the crime rate in communities such as Englewood.

Kim Gilhuly, project director of Human Impact Partners, a non-profit organization, which conducts health-based analyses added “the ISE is doing the right thing in incorporating mental health and pushing it into how we view public health in a really important way… in regard to equity, community involvement and mental health incorporation.”

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