Mental health professionals rather than just the police are now responding to some emergency calls with the launch of a new state-funded program.
The aim is to try to prevent a mental health crisis from turning into a life-threatening encounter with the police – prioritizing treatment over a criminal justice response where possible.
Rogers Park-based nonprofit provider Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare has provided mental health services in the city for about 50 years. It launched its mental health crisis response program earlier this month as part of the statewide initiative.
According to Samantha Handley, president and CEO of Trilogy, demand for mental health services has skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Across all of our services — whether it’s our community outreach services, our child and adolescent therapy services, our adult therapy services — the demand is so high,” Handley says. “The level of social isolation that people have gone through during COVID has really increased people’s mental health symptoms. Along with losing jobs, food insecurity, income insecurity – all of those things, combined with social isolation, have really created a perfect storm for people to experience mental health symptoms.
Trilogy currently provides service primarily on the North Side – covering Rogers Park, Edgewater, West Ridge and Uptown, then the suburbs of Skokie and Evanston.
Ultimately, the goal is to provide statewide coverage through a network of providers, but right now the biggest hurdle to accelerating services is simply finding healthcare professionals. sanity qualified to do the job.
“Actually, what we need right now is just more people,” Handley says. “We’ve hired about 9-10 clinicians right now. We hire counsellors, social workers and peer helpers – people with lived experience in mental health who can also offer support to people.
At the moment, Trilogy’s first aid service is available Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but Handley is already planning to extend those hours.
“As we continue to ramp up our program, eventually we will be able to offer it 24/7, 365 days a year,” Handley says.
Trilogy’s Crisis Response Team can be reached by calling 800-FACT-400 (800-322-8400), but in July a new national mental health emergency hotline, the 988, will be introduced.
When a call to the Trilogy Crisis Line is received, a dispatcher determines the nature of the emergency and an appropriate response.
“The normal response is for mental health first responders to respond to calls alone when there is no indication of a significant physical safety risk,” says Christopher Mayer, clinical director of crisis services at Trilogy.
In the event of an immediate medical emergency or a physical threat, dispatchers will continue to involve the police, but a Trilogy first responder will also be dispatched to assist the police in responding.
“We’ve been in close communication with Chicago Police as well as Evanston Police to coordinate what this partnership will look like going forward,” Mayer said. “We have worked with the Chicago Crisis Response Officers for a long time.”
Mayer says the initial rollout of the new program launched Jan. 10 has been encouraging.
“It’s been going great. We’ve had calls. People have been told about the hotline, so we’re glad our community engagement efforts have reached people to increase access to this service,” Mayer says.