This City Is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America

 By Jonathan Foiles 
August 6, 2019

Jonathan Foiles weaves together psychology and public policy, exploring the trauma underlying urbanization in a book Kirkus Reviews calls an “urgent call for reform.”

When Jonathan Foiles was a graduate student in social work, he had to choose between specializing in either mental health or public policy. But once he began working, he found it impossible to tell the two apart. As he counseled poor patients from Chicago’s South and West Sides, he realized individual therapy couldn’t account for all the ways unemployment, poverty, lack of affordable housing, and other policy decisions impacted the well-being of both individuals and communities.

Through a series of beautifully written and accessible case studies, Foiles lets us in on the stories of individual poor Chicagoans. He teaches us how he makes diagnoses, explains how therapists before him would analyze his patients, and teaches us about the profound ways that policy decisions contribute to individual suffering.

A remarkable, unique work of medical writing that serves as a call to action, this report by an experienced mental health professional is a must-read for anyone interested in the overlaps between mental health, public policy, and urbanization.

Jonathan Foiles is a writer and mental health professional based in Chicago. He writes a blog for Psychology Today and has previously written for Slate. He can be reached at jonathan.foiles@gmail.com.

Praise for This City is Killing Me

"Offers an empathetic look at how the pressures of surviving in an urban environment—including unemployment, poverty and violence—make finding help even more difficult and shares a call to action to help heal our communities."—Chicago Public Library

"In case it wasn’t clear from the title of his new book, West Side social worker Jonathan Foiles doesn’t mince words. In This City is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America, Foiles follows five current and former patients at Mount Sinai Hospital in Douglas Park as they deal with the demons of urban life. Their stories are engaging — one, whom Foiles calls Robert (names and identifying details have been changed), believes he was an African prince stolen from his family at birth — but never voyeuristic. Rather, each case exemplifies how systems like Illinois’s Department of Children and Family Services, Chicago Public Schools, and, in Robert’s case, the Chicago Housing Authority affect patients." -- Chicago Magazine

"In his book, This City Is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America, [Foiles] seeks to highlight how larger traumas within a community—things like unemployment, poverty, lack of affordable housing, violence—as well as historical factors (Jim Crow laws, redlining, displacement) can have a toxic impact that makes it harder for people within those neighborhoods to thrive." -- Marissa De La Cerda, Chicago Reader

"We rediscover the trauma of everyday life in urban America as Jonathan Foiles documents the course of his practice as a psychotherapist in the most hard-pressed surrounds of Chicago. He explores the conditions that perpetuate the experience of oppression, demoralization, and suffering, challenging us to rethink what it means to speak of help and care. He brings a moral energy and a muscular pragmatism to his conceptions of therapeutic action and hope." —William Borden, PhD, Lecturer, School of Social Service Administration and Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago



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