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Living Room a place where those struggling with mental illness can find hope

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By MIKE SANDROLINI

LA GRANGE | Nearly 44 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year, according statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

It’s common for individuals who are dealing with mental health issues or a crisis to either go to a hospital emergency room or put in a call to the local police department for help. Although ER personnel and officers do their best to assist, it can be a time-consuming effort and often doesn’t lead to a long-term solution for that person’s particular case. However, there is a place in western Cook County where residents—including those in Proviso Township—who are experiencing mental health issues can go to get help, rather than calling the police or going to the ER.

That place is the NAMI Metro Suburban Living Room, located at 4731 Willow Springs Road in La Grange. It’s open from 2-10 p.m. every day for those 18-and-over. The Living Room opened its doors this past October, but NAMI Metro Suburban held an open house on Monday morning that was attended by several western Cook County officials, including Hillside Mayor Joseph Tamburino, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and Maywood Police Chief Val Talley.
The Living Room is a nationally recognized model where individuals with a mental illness who are experiencing an increase in symptoms can go to receive support.

“I just love the fact that it’s here,” said Davis, who once was a teacher and high school counselor in the Chicago Public School system. “The individuals that I saw here this morning … you wouldn’t normally expect to see a mayor or two and a police chief. So I think we’re making some real headway, and if we don’t get stymied with a lack of resources, I’ll think we’ll make a big dent in the mental health needs of the community.”

Kimberly Knake, executive director of NAMI Metro Suburban, said the driving force behind starting the Living Room was hearing from western Cook County police departments and hospitals in the area that partner with NAMI Metro Suburban. “Hearing from the police and also from our hospital partners, there wasn’t another resource in the community,” she said. “They have such an influx of people coming in with mental health issues and can’t really service them. Police (and hospitals) can refer them to us and we can take it from there.”

The services that the Living Room provides are free of charge. The Living Room is privately funded through the Community Memorial Foundation—NAMI Metro Suburban’s main partner—along with the Westlake Health Foundation (Oakbrook Terrace) and The Arthur Foundation (Riverside).

“We’re very happy to have a Proviso contingency,” Knake said. “We are here to serve the Proviso community, and all of our services are free. We encourage families to have that conversation with their loved one and to get them help.”

Anyone seeking help first meets at the Living Room with a licensed therapist for an assessment. Then, he or she will meet with a recovery support specialist.

“Basically we assess where you’re at,” explained Peter Briggs, one of six recovery support specialist at the Living Room. “If you have a plan and a means, if you’re (for example) thinking about suicide or you’re depressed or you have symptoms of other mental health conditions, we just want to see where you’re at.”

Briggs, who also works at Riveredge Hospital in Forest Park, said the session with a recovery support specialist can last as little as 15 minutes or as long as 2 ½ hours, depending on the client. Before the client leaves for the evening, he or undergoes another assessment to see if they have improved. If a client needs a ride home, the Living Room arranges it for them. A follow-up call is made to the client the next day.

“The next day, either the recovery specialist that met with them, or whoever is on duty, will do a follow-up call just to see how they’re feeling,” Briggs said. “If they’re any worse and they need to come back in, we go from there.”

Briggs noted that around 80 percent of those with whom Living Room recovery supports specialists meet come back at least one more time.

“We have many repeats,” he said. “We’ve had great success with all the people who have come in. We’ve seen improvement from everyone that comes in. Yes, we’ve seen repeats and each time it seems they’re improving. We try to never send anyone to the ER, which is the goal. We’re setting up wellness plans and wellness recovery plans (with clients).”

“We measure our success in two different ways,” Knake added. “One is by the number of individuals that walk in, and then the number of individuals that are calling for a follow-up. So we are at about 80 percent of the people that are calling back with their peer counselors. We’re very, very encouraged with that. We certainly need an increase in our awareness of people to come here.”

Talley estimates that the Maywood Police Department receives between 50 to 100 calls per year that involve mental illness. “We have individuals who actually come into the station,” he said, “and they may be off their medication and we’ll have to address their situation or sets of circumstances. They may get into a domestic quarrel with their caregiver because they’re off their medication.”

Talley said the police department is fortunate that it already partners with some local organizations which it can call; then, they provide further assistance to individuals who are experiencing mental health conditions. However, Talley added that “the officers are still the first responders so they still need to have (mental health) training.”
Talley plans on utilizing Living Room staff to help train his officers.

“What hopefully she’ll do (referring to NAMI Metro Suburban executive director Kimberly Knake) is come out the police department and have a brief crisis intervention training module. Hopefully she’ll be able to share four hours with us across all of our shifts so that all of our officers can be trained up. Then, my goal for 2017 is to start training officers in the full 40-hour course at five (officers) at a time because we don’t want a negative impact to the village financially, but at least our officers will be more prepared to deal with this.”

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