To the editors:

Two years ago I was working hard at a new business, and looking forward to marrying the most wonderful woman on earth. I had been in the same industry for nine years, so it wasn’t new to me, but a start-up situation in a downturning economy always brings lots of challenges. The next six months didn’t betray this assessment. But as time went on, something else started to happen. Each problem that arose not only seemed more difficult to overcome, but left lingering feelings of self-doubt and paranoia. Decisions large and small seemed impossible to make and once made, mostly turned to disaster. Then the physical illness began. For weeks I would throw up at least once a day, even without eating. I would sweat through four layers of clothing, and my legs shook so much I could hardly walk down a flight of stairs. My doctor jokingly suggested I might be pregnant. During this time, my business fell apart, my employees were leaving in droves and my partners were obviously frightened by my strange behavior.

In July of last year it all came to a screeching halt. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (Graves’ disease) and started on medication. My wise doctor suggested therapy to help me with the psychological side effects of the illness. I sought help from a private practice. For months, I struggled to make sense out of the “lost baggage room” that my mind had become. My self-concept had been destroyed. The financial burden was crippling. My life savings, money from selling possessions, and unemployment compensation were quickly wiped out to pay for therapy, medication, a hospital stay and an expensive legal battle with my ex-business partners over losses suffered in the business.

In addition to all of this, the biggest challenge I still faced was the debilitating depression I was mired in. I started medication, but this put me in a stupor for weeks. Then I faced a difficult situation with my therapy practice. Having spent several thousand dollars of dwindling funds, I had to make a change of venue. With the help of my friends, I found the Chicago Department of Health’s community mental health center on North Clark Street (the Lakeview Mental Health Service).

I was a little skeptical at first, but what a pleasant surprise on my first visit. Bright, cheery surroundings, genuinely helpful, friendly people and a professional staff that cared. In particular, the clinical psychologist that was assigned to me. The fee I paid is based on my financial state, so the low cost took a great burden off of me that carried into my therapy. Great progress was made and life started to look brighter and fuller. Then two weeks ago (ironically after one of the best sessions I’ve had) my therapist informed me she was being transferred in September and could no longer treat me. In addition, the entire staff would be reduced and a strong possibility exists that the Lakeview center will be closed and I will no longer receive treatment. This makes me very sad.

Chicago’s commissioner of health, with the apparent endorsement of Mayor Richard M. Daley, is dismantling the city’s valuable mental health centers. The eventual goal is to “privatize” this service [Neighborhood News, August 16]. My own experiences taught me how difficult it is for people to seek out and stick with much-needed therapeutic counseling. Most private practices are good, but aren’t equipped to take over the ongoing care that people need. Therapy is a long-term, one-on-one process that can’t easily be rearranged like an appointment schedule. And Chicago’s community mental health centers are the only place where no one is turned away based on their inability to pay.

Although my life and future concern me greatly, I am concerned deeply for those individuals that suffer greater ills. Abused children, incest victims, battered women, schizophrenics, among others, that are cared for at these centers. I cry as I write these words and think of all of us. Where will these people go? Who will reach a hand out or give them a hug now?

I know myself that I will survive this and continue to rebuild my self-esteem. I can thank my lovely fiancee for her help and understanding and all of the people at the Lakeview Mental Health Service. I want our fine Mayor and his commissioner of health to stop the elimination of these much needed centers and their valuable staff. Please think of all of us suffering the “quiet pain” of mental illness or abuse and let us continue the healing process.

David J. Namest

N. Lake Shore Drive