Taking mental health care in New York to the next level

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First responders in mental health via B-HEARD


Last week, the New York City Council voted to amend the city charter to establish the Mayor’s Office for Community Mental Health as a permanent part of our city government. The vote comes at a critical time – as New Yorkers continue to feel the long-term consequences of the pandemic on mental health.

The vote is also the culmination of years of work. Following decades of state and federal neglect that left too many people without the mental health care they need, New York City became the first major American city to support health services. mental health through local tax deductions. As a result, New York City now offers more mental health services, in more places and in more ways than ever before. These services are essential and effective.

Built on the strong foundation of ThriveNYC, our office coordinates a much-needed whole-of-government approach to mental health and works with 13 municipal government agencies and over 200 community organizations to fill gaps in mental health care through innovation. Our programs are not intended to replace the behavioral health care system, but to improve and complement it with a focus on reaching people who would otherwise be deprived of care.

The results are clear. Elderly people with depression and anxiety are doing better thanks to the clinicians we brought to the elderly centers. Victims of crime feel safer thanks to the advocates we have placed in every police station. New Yorkers with severe mental illness remain engaged in care and secure permanent housing thanks to mobile treatment teams the city has created to fill gaps in state funding. Since 2016, New Yorkers have contacted our mental health helpline – 1-888-NYC-WELL – over 1.5 million times for help, with calls skyrocketing during the pandemic. Ninety-three percent were satisfied with their needs.

In the face of a nationwide shortage of social workers, we have demonstrated new ways to provide needed mental health support without qualified clinicians. Currently, the new Academy for Community Behavioral Health, led by the CUNY School of Professional Studies in partnership with our office and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, offers free courses and certification programs for service providers. social workers and municipal government employees. The training will help them provide basic mental health support to the people they serve.

In Harlem, we pioneered the city’s first health-focused non-police response to 911 mental health emergencies. Early results show more people accept help, fewer hospitalizations and more care community. This is the next frontier in emergency mental health response reform, but it is not the whole story.

We have also worked with the city’s health department to expand the health-only mobile crisis teams that can be deployed through NYC. – up compared to 2014, average waiting times of more than one day.

Recently, we launched a new approach to prevent the next emergency, working with FDNY emergency medical services and the Department of Health to reach the roughly 300 people who call 911 for mental health issues over three times per month. Through proactive connection to necessary services, we hope to avoid the next moment of crisis and reduce the use of emergency resources.

We’re also developing mobile treatment teams and member-run Clubhouses across town – with the goal of better serving more people with severe mental illness. Starting this month, we’re bringing new mental health services to all domestic violence shelters in town, creating new treatment centers for youth and young adults – especially those who have run away. or have experienced homelessness, and add more clinicians to senior centers in communities of color.

There is so much more to do, especially as New York City continues to recover from the pandemic – which has created significant mental health challenges and exacerbated long-standing inequalities. It’s time for the city-wide conversation on mental health to focus on the future – we need to discuss how to bring more mental health support to those who need it most. An equity lens must guide every strategy going forward: We have greatly expanded the links to mental health care, but not everyone still has access to the care they need.

The next town hall faces major challenges. Promoting mental health for all New Yorkers should be one of the highest priorities. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray and the New York City Council, leaders of the future will also have more tools to tackle these challenges than ever before, including and most importantly the Mayor’s office of the community mental health.

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Susan Herman is Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health. On Twitter @MentalHealthNYC.

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