Chicago's 22nd Police District hosts first-ever 'wellness fair' to help officers' mental health

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A first-of-its-kind event was held Tuesday at Chicago's 22nd Police District to help officers with growing concerns about their mental health.

The effort to crack down on crime downtown and throughout the city as we head toward summer is highlighting the growing strain on Chicago's police force.

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After spending 16 years as a Chicago police officer, mostly on the city's West Side, 47-year-old Jamay Nellum-Fane decided to leave the force. She retired last month.

"I myself suffered from PTSD," Nellum-Fane said.

She said it was a choice between her mental health and doing what she loved.

"It was just an overwhelming experience being out there on patrol," Nellum-Fane said. "And we're in a different day, where patrol officers are taking a strong beating out there, so it's just a lot to cope with and to deal with."

Since starting a health and wellness business with her husband, Nellum-Fane hopes to help others - especially cops struggling with the demands of the job.

She joined forces with others offering products and tools for self-care to current CPD officers at the 22nd District's first-ever wellness fair on Tuesday.

"We see our physical health," Chicago Police Commander Sean Joyce said. "Our pants get tight, you put weight on. You say, 'I've got to do something for my physical health.' Mental health is not as obvious."

Several elected officials, including 19th Ward Alderman Matt O'Shea, sponsored the daylong event, which comes as the month of May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month.

"In recent years, the amount of suicides we've seen in the community, our officers dying by suicide, we have failed," O'Shea said.

There were no cops at the event who wanted to speak openly about their daily experiences. They say disturbances downtown and an uptick in crime make it an even tougher time to be a cop.

Recent data shows across 2019 and 2020, 1,318 sworn officers left the Chicago Police Department. That's up 24% from the same period two years' prior. And 605 sworn officers have joined CPD, which is down 74% from the two years' prior.

That's why those here say mental health of police and first responders must be a priority.

But despite the ups and downs, Nellum-Fane said she would do it all again.

"If you have a heart and you care for people and you care for community and the drive to create change, I say do it," she said.
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