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First Lady McCray Hosts Conversation on Mental Illness

NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray

How are you feeling?  Are you or a loved one depressed or anxious?  Would you know what to do or where to go for help?

First Lady Chirlane McCray hosted a community conversation on the subject of mental illness and the Thrive NYC program.  The goal was to connect individuals, and their loved ones, to services which help those affected by the disease.  Thrive NYC is a collection of programs which offer help and support.  One phone call to 888-NYC-WELL can start the process. 

Assistance is not just a phone call away, but many of the Thrive NYC programs are proactive and reach out to connect with those who might be most in need.  The ‘Respect for All’ program which extends care to students and their families is currently located in over 130 schools in Queens.  There are initiatives that are evaluating new mothers for signs of maternal depression and treatment.  There are social workers and mental health care practitioners in senior centers and outreach is available to homeless individuals living on the streets. 

Thrive NYC is not only about connecting individuals to the care they need but is about changing the way mental illness is viewed and addressed as a health issue.

“We know what to do when people are bleeding.  Do we know what to do when people are having a panic attack or are depressed,” asked McCray.

To that end, Thrive NYC is looking to train a quarter of a million New Yorkers on how to identify and respond to those who may be affected.  Targeted for that training are those who are currently in caregiver positions, i.e. teachers and clergy.  To-date, the program has welcomed over 2,000 members of the clergy to be on the frontlines.

“You can only do so much praying before you have to get that person some help,” said the First Lady.

The conversation addressed questions submitted by those in attendance.  First Lady McCray brought an army of agency directors from the various city agencies involved in the program to help address those questions and to share information about their individual initiatives. 

However informative that army was, they were definitely well represented by McCray who was able to respond to each question.  She displayed a confidence and ease while providing feedback advising individuals on resources.  There was no faltering of tone or shying away from sensitive topics, just an earnest compassion toward every situation.  These are the examples individuals need as they grapple with erasing the stigma which accompanies mental illness.

“We all have a story,’ said First Lady McCray.  When she asked those who also had a story to raise their hands, almost every person responded affirmatively.

Ninety percent of the questions submitted to the conversation were signed anonymously, confirming the sensitive nature surrounding expressing concerns regarding mental illness.  Questions were asked about ways to get help for those who may be in crisis and what to do in a drug overdose situation.  The First Lady and NYPD Chief Ward stressed that individuals should not worry about arrests for those in a narcotic crisis, even if they have drug or drug paraphernalia in their possession at the time.  The goal is to get that individual assistance. 

The conversation fielded concerns about connecting young people with assistance against bullying and peer situations.  Addressing youth issues was an important component of the program as the First Lady shared statistics about teen suicide attempts and early onset of addiction during teen years.  A pivotal moment of the event came when one brave soul stood up after the First Lady opened the floor to questions. 

“I am suffering from severe depression…I’ve been in a shelter for two years.  I’m suffering so much and I see all the doors closed,” he said. 

“Thank you for having the courage to stand up.  I hope you can feel the support around you.  This is a safe place, a supportive place.  We want to do our best to direct you to services,” said the First Lady.

“We do have people here.  I want to address you as an individual and not as a policy issue.  I want to connect you with resources,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Major for Health and Human Services.

This exchange was a real life example of how individuals will be addressed by the program.  Someone reaches out, there is a response about resources with no judgement or shame. 

The First Lady admits Thrive NYC continues to be a work in progress despite its many strides.  Although the program boasts counselors that speak more than 200 languages, the program is working on building a workforce which reflects the city’s population and cultures.

The event took place on Tuesday, June 13 at the Queens Library Central Branch and was streamed live on Facebook.

Here is what you need to know about the free Thrive NYC service.

Phone Number: 888-NYC-WELL

Text: “WELL” to 65173

In Schools:  Assistance is available for both students and their parents.

Clergy Connection:  Ask your church if its leadership is connected to the program