How Naperville council candidates propose improving mental health

As police across the suburbs increasingly encounter people who are in crisis, candidates for city council in Naperville agree mental health is a topic they must address.

Eight candidates seeking four seats in the April 4 election offer similar goals for a more mentally healthy community - providing a well-trained police force, educating residents and reducing stigma - but they suggest different ways of reaching these aims.

"We have to destigmatize it. I'll destigmatize it right now," incumbent Kevin Gallaher said about mental health during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald. "I have depression. I've had it since 2002."

Gallaher, a 53-year-old attorney, said he doesn't like talking about his condition but does so to make sure others know there is help through counseling, faith and medication - even for the deepest valleys of mental health crisis.

During his first stint on the council, from 1995 to 2002, Gallaher said he helped ensure city employees receive insurance for mental health treatment. Now he advocates reaching out instead of turning in when dealing with a mental condition.

Incumbent John "Johnny" Krummen says he and his sons, too, have taken advantage of mental health services after his wife died of cancer.

"We went and saw counselors, and those counselors were key to helping us get through it," said Krummen, a 53-year-old mechanical engineer.

He said it's important to remember mental challenges aren't always visible.

"You drive through Naperville and you see the nice houses and the clean streets and everything looks nice," he said. "But that doesn't mean things aren't troubled."

Others in the race say mental illness has touched their families.

Mike Strick, a 55-year-old small-business owner who is running for council for the first time, said a sister-in-law suffered from a mental illness before her death and he saw how she encountered high periods and lows.

"People suffer in silence," he said. "They're embarrassed about asking for help."

The council can help by providing resources and outreach to let people know of treatment organizations such as Linden Oaks Behavioral Health and 360 Youth Services, Strick said.

That's what incumbent Kevin Coyne says he did when a client of his reached out needing mental health help for one of his employees who was battling depression and substance abuse. Coyne, a 41-year-old attorney, said it's easy for council members to exist in a "bubble" and to forget residents don't always know what resources are available to help, such as A Man In Recovery Foundation.

Education is exactly the route challengers Michael Leland Isaac and Benny White say the city should take to decrease mental health stigma and improve use of services.

Isaac, a 34-year-old small-business owner, says the council should make sure residents are aware of education for students and for adults, such as programs offered by ParentsMatterToo, which provides short videos of experts answering questions and runs conversation circles to teach parenting skills.

White, a 52-year-old retired Army officer, said the city should add more mental health professionals to the police department so they can be on call to respond - when it's safe to do so - as patrol officers encounter people in crisis.

Incumbent Judith Brodhead, a 65-year-old English professor, praised work the police department already is undertaking to require more officer training and start a Crisis Intervention Team. She said the team aims to partner with social service agencies and to ensure officers know how to de-escalate tense situations with people in a challenged mental state.

Challenger Julie Berkowicz, a 55-year-old sales professional, said the best thing the city can do is increase coordination and create a central hub for people to consult for mental health assistance.

"That hub can get them connected to the resources and the help they need," she said.

The top four vote-getters in the April 4 election will win 4-year terms in the council seats now occupied by Brodhead, Coyne, Gallaher and Krummen.

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