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How to Address Mental Health on Public Transportation

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) serves over one million passengers each day. If you live in Chicago or have ever visited the bustling city, you are likely familiar with the CTA and the “L” train system. With so many daily passengers and endless possibilities for mishaps or “interesting situations”, the “L” can at times be a stressful experience for anyone involved. How does this apply to individuals who utilize the CTA and have mental illness? Having either a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness can add additional stressors and barriers to one’s life. As a passenger of the “L”, you may have noticed other passengers who may be dealing with mental health issues based on some of their observable behaviors. Mary Wisniewski, a contact reporter for the Chicago Tribune, writes about what to do if you’re riding the “L” and see someone visibly struggling with their mental health. This blog post will explore Wisniewski’s article and discuss tips for handling a mental health crisis on the CTA system.

The author first starts to explore what mental illness and its behaviors may look like. Wisniewski states that some people who have mental illness may exhibit behaviors such as talking to themselves, moaning, or looking as though they haven’t gotten any sleep. Although the author may be correct on these observations, I would like to add that it is important to not make assumptions about others’ mental health. Some passengers on the “L” may have their own struggles with mental health but are better at hiding it, or they are able to manage it. Also, the above behaviors mentioned by the author may not be accurate indicators for mental health issues for all. Many folks can relate to being or looking sleep deprived, and we all sometimes talk to ourselves! Some clearer telltale signs to look for also include agitation, self-harming behaviors (such as hitting or cutting oneself), irrational behavior or thinking, impoverished speech, or intoxication.

If you ride the “L” often or take Chicago public transportation regularly, you may have noticed individuals presenting with the previously mentioned behaviors. Crossing paths with individuals who may have mental illness may bring up some anxiety or stress for you, but be mindful of how you react to this type of situation. Wisniewski writes that the number of people showing obvious signs of mental illness in public has increased in recent years, due to lack of adequate funding for treatment, the opioid crisis and the impact of violent trauma like shootings, which can intensify mental health issues. Understand the multiple factors that may be impacting those presenting with mental illness. Be respectful to these riders while maintaining your own personal safety.

There are several different ways in which you can help passengers who appear to be struggling with their mental health. First, as mentioned before, maintain your own safety and assess the situation as thoroughly as you can. Not everyone who is talking to themselves needs help; the best approach is to let that individual be and give them their space. However, if you see someone crying, screaming, or threatening to cause self-harm or harm to others, consider offering assistance and/or requesting assistance from a CTA employee. There are call buttons on all rail cars that you can dial for assistance. If the situation appears to be threatening in any way, seek safety and call 911 immediately. Whatever you do, do not respond to the individual with anger or frustration. As humans, we tend to feed off of each other’s energies and approaching hurting folks with aggression will only make matters worse.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, therapy may be a great place to start working on and improving those concerns. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to get connected with one of our caring, talented clinicians today!

Mary Wisniewksi’s article, When You Encounter the Mentally Ill on the “L”, Be Kind. And Don’t Make it Worse, was referenced for this blog post.

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