New push for mental health help on the West Side

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Chicago police officers are getting important training on how to handle situations that involve mental health issues. (WLS)

Chicago police officers are getting important training on how to handle situations that involve mental health issues. The training is part of a community project aimed at improving crisis response while also raising awareness about mental health resources available in the city.

In areas of high poverty and high crime, stress and trauma can be compounded relentlessly with every incident of violence or indifference.

So it is that addressing mental illness can pushed down on the list of priorities. Some who live and work on the West Side are trying to offer help and prevent futures incidents.

About a dozen human services providers added another tool to their kit. On Thursday staffers at the Better Boys Foundation got crisis intervention team training, CIT for short.

Mental health professionals taught officers how to de-escalate and get an individual support. This is a concentrated efforts to train some who can impact families' lives on the West Side.

"We know post-traumatic stress disorder is clearly an issue, a mental illness. In these communities it's not post-traumatic stress disorder, it's traumatic stress disorder everyday all the time," Rufus Williams, president and CEO of the Better Boys Foundation, said.

"Mental illness is a medical condition and we have to make sure that there's a significant investment made in providers so we're not setting up our community to feel disappointed when they need help and support," Alexa James, National Alliance on Mental Health Chicago, said.

It is the same training some Chicago police officers have received. So far only about a quarter of officers are CIT trained.

"CPD and OEMC have automated the process of coding offucer who are CIT trained," Cmdr. Dwayne Betts, Chicago Police 15th District, said.

"We have our individuals that are facing or interacting with the public on a regular basis understand the trauma in folks' lives and are trained to respond appropriately with people who have had trauma in their lives," Dr. Julie Morita, Chicago Public Health commissioner, said.

The West Side initiative is a start organizers said. Those who work with families directly hope this will be another layer of support for their clients.

"It allows me to be able to communicate that information to their parents so the parents know what is going on, what I see here, I can communicate that to the families," Cartendia Newton, kids lab instructor at the Better Boys Foundation, said.

After the six months of CIT sessions, the program will be evaluated. While they started on the West Side, all involved acknowledged a need to expand mental health services throughout the city.

For instance for some addiction and other mental health issues, there can be wait lists to get help.

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