PILSEN — Over three years, Tanya Lozano has met hundreds of people through the Healthy Hood dance and fitness classes she hosts in the basement of Pilsen’s Lincoln Methodist Church.
Often neighbors would come seeking a reprieve through physical activity, Lozano said. Over time, some would reveal they were struggling with mental health issues, too.
“It was kind of this in-your-face issue we were seeing,” Lozano said. “We didn’t just choose to take on the issue, the issue kind of chose us because the community was dealing with it.”
Now, Lozano has teamed up with friend Paulina Roe to launch Get Yo Mind Right to provide free mental health services to low-income communities of color. The initiative is also headquartered out of the church’s basement at 2242 S. Damen Ave.
The program aims to offer free mental health services tailored to an individual’s needs. Services include free one-on-one counseling, group therapy, Reiki healing, yoga and massage therapy.
A group of therapists and healers are volunteering to host two sessions a month for free to make the program possible, the 30-year-old Lozano said.
“We want to make sure we honor the fact that everyones’ trauma is different and everyone heals differently. Traditional one-on-one therapy is not going to work for everyone,” she said.
All 100 slots of the group’s first cohort were filled within 15 minutes of the program going live last month, Lozano said. They hope to open the program to more folks in the coming months, possibly as soon as March.
Roe, a morning host at 103.5 KISS FM radio who lives in Midway, has spoken openly about her mental health struggles including anxiety and depression.
Through her own experience, the 27-year-old host noticed the lack of mental health resources that are available on the city’s Southwest Side. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was widely criticized when he closed six of the city’s mental health clinics in 2012.
In 2018, 22 groups came together to study the state of mental health services on the Southwest Side. Half of survey respondents reported symptoms of depression. Despite that need, there were only about 63 mental health clinicians on the city’s entire Southwest Side, or about 0.17 therapists per 1,000 residents, according to the study by the Collaborative for Community Wellness.
Compare that to the Gold Coast on the North Side, where there were 381 mental health care providers, or 4.45 per 1,000 residents, according to the 2018 report. The disparity in care is stark.
Aiming to make a difference, Roe reached out to Lozano to see how they could work together to address the massive need.
Get Yo Mind Right aligned with Healthy Hood’s mission, which aims to cut the 20-year life expectancy gap between communities of color and more affluent neighborhoods by providing access to services that aren’t readily available in low-income communities.
Barriers for mental health services exist regardless of class, but are more pronounced for communities of color, Lozano said.
“For undocumented members or members of the community who are uninsured, it’s basically impossible,” she said.
Lozano also saw the need first hand.
“As a community center for underserved residents, we needed to figure out a way to help our people because the system was really just leaving our communities out,” she said.
“When there’s an outbreak like Swine Flu… there is an urgency from the government or the system to try to assist in stopping the spread of the epidemic. But when it comes to mental health, it just seems like there’s no urgency to take care of this epidemic,” Lozano said.
Beyond providing services, Lozano said the group collect data in an effort to show local and state officials that more mental health services are needed in Pilsen and Chicago’s communities of color.
“Everything that we do at Healthy Hood is not just to serve a physical community that comes through our doors. What we are doing with Healthy Hood is exposing the flaws in the healthcare system that directly affects communities of color in Chicago,” Lozano said.
In exposing these shortfalls, Lozano hopes to create lasting change in the way the government handles mental health needs in Pilsen and beyond.
“When people take part in this initiative, people will be finding healing but they are joining a community that is standing up for the general public,” Lozano said.
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