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Furloughed federal workers offered free mental health counseling

Chicago Tribune - 1/22/2019

Jan. 22--Concerned about the mental well-being of federal workers affected by the longest government shutdown in history, a local health system is offering free counseling.

Sinai Health System's behavioral health department is accepting walk-ins and appointments for adult patients at Mount Sinai Hospital and Holy Cross hospitals. Workers who show their government IDs can get services for free if they've been furloughed or have been going without pay.

"If there's no other underlying mental health issue, this is one of those issues that could create one, especially when it comes to anxiety," said Eric Lenzo, executive director for behavioral health services at Sinai, of the shutdown. "The anxiety is really going to start to stack up."

The monthlong shutdown has resulted in 800,000 workers across the country being furloughed. Workers have already missed one paycheck. They'll get back pay after the shutdown ends, but in the meantime, some are struggling to pay their bills.

"It's feeling more and more real each day, so I would expect that folks, even who weren't panicking in the beginning, might be panicking now," Lenzo said.

Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association, in calling for an end to the shutdown, also expressed concern for the mental health of federal workers and contractors.

"The stress of uncertainty and missed paychecks is putting enormous pressure on the 800,000 furloughed federal workers, as well as government contractors and the many businesses that rely on federal workers," said association President Rosie Phillips Davis, in a news release.

Workers may walk in to get assessed at Mount Sinai Hospital from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Holy Cross Hospital.

Affected workers may also call Sinai Community Institute's referral hotline at 773-257-6216 to get help with medical appointments; to find local support groups, child care options, bill pay options, housing assistance and food; or to learn about volunteer opportunities if they are looking for ways to fill their time. The community institute also will offer free meeting spaces for support groups trying to help affected workers.

A number of other Chicago-area businesses have also stepped up to offer free food and assistance during the shutdown.

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

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