28 Oct Caring for Community: BUILD Chicago Taking Mental Health Care Mobile
BUILD Chicago’s presence in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood has been a bright light for local youth and their families since the COVID pandemic began. Young people have experienced “a pandemic on top of a pandemic” given the impact of social isolation and increased community violence, which has reinforced the need for accessible mental health services that meet individuals exactly where they are.
As part of our Reimagine Health series, read about our partner BUILD Chicago’s innovative, trust-based approach to community mental health and wellness and how they are increasing access to mental health support in Austin and surrounding communities.
by BUILD Chicago’s Jessica Carrillo and Amanda Cimaroli
The past year has been particularly challenging for the youth, families, and communities BUILD serves given multiple concurrent crises – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, heightened risk due to decades of systemic racism and health inequities; racial justice uprisings and unrest; and spiking gun violence. These crises have driven the increased need for mental health and emergency support services in our communities.
However, our youth and families are not able to easily access the mental health care they need for several reasons:
- Few mental health service options in our communities
- Lack of transportation to access services elsewhere
- The stigma that remains around mental health support, especially among adult residents
- People who lack health insurance are unable to pay out-of-pocket for high-cost services
- Many providers do not accept Medicaid, which reimburses mental health providers at lower rates
- A dearth of culturally competent mental health providers who might ease clients’ distrust
As a result, there are significant levels of unmet mental health needs in BUILD’s communities. Further, residents have normalized current environmental stressors and are often unaware of the benefits mental health services offer.
MOBILE MENTAL HEALTH VAN
In 2020, BUILD saw an opportunity to introduce a new strategy to reach our youth and families with mental health care and other critical supportive services. We knew this—those who needed care and counseling the most were the ones least able to get it.
We thought long and hard about eliminating obstacles to care, and we quickly arrived at the idea of a mobile outreach unit.
BUILD’s Mobile Mental Health (MMH) team delivers these services directly to those who need them most. We have found that the process of culturally competent therapists meeting and engaging clients where they are, in their communities, builds a stronger foundation for the client-therapist relationship and increases the likelihood that clients will utilize these resources.
Locating the MMH unit in our communities and the relationship-building between MMH staff and residents allows the team to also serve as educators and talk with community members, raising awareness of the impact of trauma and the benefits of engaging in supportive services.
RESPONDING TO COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS
BUILD’s Mobile Mental Health (MMH) unit visits the Austin and Humboldt Park communities to increase access to services. It engages in intentional outreach focused on individual blocks that have recently experienced or frequently experience violence.
Our integrated services are key strengths and differentiators of the mental health team, making their mental health conversations more effective. Because the MMH unit provides on-the-spot services and resources, we have seen increased resident engagement with those services. We have also seen that our mental health services are most successful when therapists partner with non-clinical BUILD staff members to engage youth and families, including case managers.
“When our Crisis Response Unit team responds to incidents of violence, the presence of our MMH unit removes barriers to victims and their families receiving needed services.”
The MMH unit works closely with BUILD’s Community Violence Support Services (CVSS) program, street outreach, and community ambassador teams, all of which BUILD hires from our communities. Because of their significant credibility with youth and neighborhood residents, integration with MMH increases the likelihood that residents will engage in mental health treatment. When our Crisis Response Unit team responds to incidents of violence, the presence of our MMH unit removes barriers to victims and their families receiving needed services.
Community members reportedly love how open the MMH team is about mental health and usually come with a wide range of needs, including school help, rental assistance, and medical care, which are all services that our case management teams can help with. Conversations around basic needs transition smoothly into counseling conversations – and are probably made possible by them.
BEING THERE FOR COMMUNITY
The MMH unit also travels to all BUILD’s community events such as Hoops on the Block, the Donna Dudley Peace Project softball league games, BUILD the Block, Peace Walks, and partner events such as the Paz Le with Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation.
Residents will soon be able to track the movement of the MMH unit! (#MentalHealthMatters, #ChicagoCantWait)
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The team has seen a significant impact in the short time the MMH unit has been in operation.
Residents frequently stop by the MMH van to learn about available BUILD services, programs, events, and other resources available in the community. Other non-profit organizations have visited to know about our services and how they can refer clients to BUILD.
The team has also recognized the benefits of just being present and visible within the community. Working alongside other community-embedded staff has provided a greater sense of legitimacy and belonging for the unit.
Team members have seen young people welcome and seek out these services. This normalization can only increase youth using mental health care, especially promoting it to their peers.
WHAT REIMAGINING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS MEANS TO BUILD
To BUILD, reimagining mental health and wellness means tailoring traditional mental health care to meet the needs of the population we serve—a population that has been historically underserved in the mental health care sphere.
BUILD’s mental health and wellness services are an extension of our overall commitment to serving the whole young person – our holistic, long-term, relationship-based approach to transforming young lives and supporting families and communities. It’s more than just one-on-one counseling; it can take the form of art, music, narrative or dance/movement therapy; yoga, meditation, and mindfulness; or a vigil or safe community space to grieve a loss.
Staff who share our youth and families’ diverse backgrounds walk with them on their journeys, helping them develop the skills and access the opportunities and resources they need to build better lives for themselves.
Through our work with individuals and groups, BUILD is working to form connections with the community and among community members, increase utilization of local mental health resources, helping to develop a climate of improved mental health and wellness, and build overall healthier communities.
“BUILD’s mental health and wellness services are an extension of our overall commitment to serving the whole young person.”
WHAT’S UPCOMING FOR BUILD
BUILD broke ground on our new state-of-the-art youth and community center in August 2021, enabling us to significantly grow our staff, culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services, and reach 2,000 youth daily. The center will include a floor dedicated to supporting mental health needs which will seamlessly integrate into youth and community spaces to reduce any stigma about receiving mental health care and making services readily available to the broader public.
Jessica Carrillo, Director of Programs and Services and Amanda Cimaroli, Therapist at BUILD Chicago
Photo credits: BUILD Chicago
Learn more about our grantee partner BUILD Chicago and their important work in Austin and surrounding communities.