Riveredge Hospital | File photo

With much buzz lately regarding budget cuts and financial distress at the state and federal levels, much attention has been paid to the lack of funding available for infrastructure, education and government salaries.

What many may not realize is that public mental health services are also at stake, so several local leaders are teaming up this week to promote community collaboration among mental health professionals.

On May 26, Riveredge Hospital with the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission (PTMHC) will co-host a conference for area professionals and community stakeholders to talk about issues regarding access to care, resources and advocacy regarding mental health in Cook County.

Since May is Mental Health Month, Riveredge wanted to bring greater awareness about an issue that affects an estimated one in four adults.

Riveredge CEO Carey Carlock said she is excited to talk with other local mental health advocates about ways to improve services and outreach across the county.

“In absence of a state budget, we have many agencies, services and individuals vulnerable and not able to get their mental health needs met,” Carlock said. “We must remain united in advocacy and [provide] access to compassionate and effective care.”

While the event is not open to the public, several community representatives and agencies will be in attendance at the conference, including PTMHC Executive Director Jesse Rosas, Pillars, Way Back Inn, Housing Forward, the Oak Park Community Mental Health Board, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Community Memorial Foundation.

First District Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin will also be at the conference as the special guest speaker. Boykin, who said he is an avid supporter of improving mental health services and awareness in the community, believes the conference will be a great way to strategize how to reach out and make mental health services more readily available to many struggling locals.

“Mental health is an issue that I’m very much concerned about,” Boykin said. “When I ran for the Cook County board, one of the first things I did was tour the Cook County Jail. When Sheriff Tom Dart told me that a third of the inmates suffered from some form of mental illness, I was just totally taken aback. Then when I saw the state had closed two state-run mental health institutions, I just basically felt compelled to make mental health a big part and centerpiece of my campaign.”

Boykin said the focus of his presentation will center on what he calls “silent depression,” which occurs primarily in poor, local communities of color and the ways he hopes to de-stigmatize mental health in these areas.

“There is a silent depression raging and this depression has the potential to take us under,” he explained. “I’ll also be focusing on the collaboration of entities working together to try and provide mental health services so these communities can get the help they need.”

While mental health issues plague people from all walks of life, discussion at the conference will also include mental health problems involving victims of violence and drug use.

“Many of these communities are traumatized,” Boykin said, by issues such as heroin use and gun violence. “I just feel like we’ve got to do so much to make sure that these communities are stabilized. You’ve got to figure out how to get the people the help that they need.”

Carlock said events like this conference are important in order for agencies to collaborate and help people in the area receive preventive care before mental health issues grow even bigger.

“Often, people do not seek assistance with mental health issues until they are in crisis,” she said. “Our community is rich with compassionate and highly effective care providers. Treatment works!”