When Jonathan Foiles was a graduate student in social work, he had to choose between a mental health or policy track. But once he began working, he found it impossible to tell the two apart. While helping poor patients from the South and West sides of Chicago, he realized individual therapy could not take into account the importance unemployment, poverty, lack of affordable housing and other policy decisions that impact both individual and community well-being. It is easy to be depressed if you live in a neighborhood that has few supportive resources available, or is marred by gun violence. We are able to diagnose people with depression, but how does one heal a neighborhood?
This City Is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America (Belt Publishing, 2019(, brings policy and psychology together. Through a remarkable set of case studies, Foiles opens up his therapy door to allow us to overhear the stories of Jacqueline, Frida, Robert, Luis, Anthony, and other poor Chicagoans. As we listen, Foiles teaches us how he diagnoses, explains how therapists before him would analyze these patients, and, through statistics and the example of Chicago, teaches us how policy decisions have contributed to these individuals’ suffering. The result is a remarkable, unique work with an urgent political call to action at its core.