LaGrange facility offers free mental health help to first responders

Judy Hsu Image
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
La Grange police chief spearheads mental health alternative ?respite center?
There is a new resource in the Chicago suburbs helping first responders and family members dealing with a mental illness crisis.

LA GRANGE, Ill. (WLS) -- Police departments across the country are expressing growing concern about the number of emergency calls placed for mental illness. Several recent high profile cases have ended tragically, but now there is a new resource in the Chicago suburbs helping first responders and family members dealing with a mental illness crisis.

Peter Briggs has struggled with the symptoms of being bi-polar since he was a teenager, and like most who suffer from mental illness he ended up in the emergency room.

"I kind of gave up, decided life wasn't worth living," Briggs said.

Now he's helping others avoid the same path as a peer recovery specialist at The Living Room, a new respite center that opened in west suburban La Grange.

"The hope is that it's an alternative to the emergency department for individuals experiencing an increase in mental health symptoms," said Shelly Lustrup, of the Living Room.

"For families whose members are struggling that don't know what options they have, for first responders instead of the ER, they have a place to go and be met with a licensed clinician," said Carey Carlon of the National Alliance for Mental Illness - Metro Suburban.

Anyone can walk in; no appointment required and at no cost. They will be assessed by a clinical social worker and offered support services. The idea initiated a year ago by a local police chief.

It's a growing concern and with sometimes deadly results. A Washington Post report found that, nationally, police officers have been involved in fatal shootings of civilians nearly 1,000 in 2015 and about a quarter of those killed were mentally ill or experiencing an emotional crisis.

"I haven't talked to a police chief around who's not dealing with the same thing. We've all seen this significant rise in mental illness cases," said former Hinsdale police chief Brad Bloom.

For Briggs, he hopes the innovative approach will open more doors to help others on the road to recovery.

"A lot of times people isolate, they end up doing something drastic. It's hard to ask for help. I'm still not good at it, and I'm in recovery," Briggs said.

The program is hoping to decrease unnecessary hospitalization. An existing Living Room in Skokie reported that, in their first year, 93% of the people who went there during a mental health crisis did not end up in the ER. The program is currently funded by the Community Memorial Foundation.