As communities across Illinois respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and brace for its long-term effects, mental health and wellness are central to the recovery strategy. Rachel Bhagwat ’12 and Anthony Guerrero ’14, ’18 MS are on the team leading that effort at NAMI Chicago, an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’re seeing an unprecedented need for their services.
“NAMI Chicago provides essential support to people on some of their worst days. Lately, those days come a lot more frequently,” says Guerrero, who works as a resource manager, providing support to the helpline team that takes calls daily.
Last year NAMI Chicago served 22,000 residents, and in May, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ’20 H named the organization a co-chair on the mental and emotional health committee of Chicago’s COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce. While mental health is the primary focus, the helpline team is trained to connect callers with emergency resources, including food, housing and transportation. Building partnerships with government agencies, nonprofits and businesses that provide those services is one of Bhagwat’s main job responsibilities at NAMI.
“Whether it’s helping a family of five at risk of being homeless or delivering groceries to older adults who are homebound, care is subjective — it’s what you need addressed first so that we can even start to have a conversation about mental health,” says Bhagwat.
“I think we all know that the impacts of this crisis are going to be long-lasting,” she adds. “The financial and safety net insecurities we’re dealing with have always been there, and a major part of our work, for the foreseeable future, will focus on addressing those underlying issues. Residents are depending on us to step up as much in the future as we are now.”
Learn more about NAMI Chicago at namichicago.org. To access mental health support, call their Helpline at 833-626-4244.