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

"Chicago-based mental health clinician Foiles looks at the many ways in which urban poverty, crime, violence, and other socio-economic factors can destroy a life. ... An urgent call for reform worthy of serious consideration." -- Kirkus Reviews


By Jonathan Foiles
August 6, 2019

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, 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.


Praise for This City is Killing Me

"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


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


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