Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report that restated the importance of family-focused therapies for young children experiencing emotional and behavioral problems. This means that the best way to provide young children with support is to treat the whole family; parent training, family therapy, and access to social services are still the best medicine for problems in early childhood. That same report, however, also discussed the barriers that many children and families face when seeking help.
In 2016, New York City began working to eliminate those barriers, and open the door to mental health care for all of our eight million neighbors. Here at The Yellin Center, we always look at the big picture for every child, and we know that learning is extra hard when students are also carrying the added weight of mental health challenges, which one in five New Yorkers do. We think this initiative has the potential to do some real good for our neighbors, and we’d like to tell you about these exciting plans and how you can get involved.
ThriveNYC, spearheaded by NYC’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, is a city-wide initiative to raise awareness about mental health and increase access to services around the city. This comprehensive mental health plan is based around a five-step plan. First, we have to change the culture. In other words, ThriveNYC wants to make mental health everyone’s business. One in five New Yorkers experiences a mental health problem at some point in their lives, but the topic is something that many families are uncomfortable talking about. You may have noticed the ThriveNYC ad campaign that debuted around the city last summer. It features photos of New Yorkers talking openly about their mental health concerns: “Addiction does not define me. Today I Thrive.” By opening up the conversation with our families, our teachers, our children, and our neighbors, we can make it easier to ask for help.
One of the most exciting parts of this first step is Mental Health First Aid – a free eight-hour course for any New Yorker to learn how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. The city hopes to train 250,000 New Yorkers with this course, offered in both English and Spanish. One version of the course is specifically geared towards community members who work with young people.
The second piece of ThriveNYC demands early action. Echoing the AAP, the comprehensive plan is focused on identifying children from birth through college who are experiencing adverse life events (e.g., divorce, financial strain) or reporting feeling sad or hopeless – two predictors of mental illness later on. Identification is the first step to early intervention, and the earlier a child or family can find help, the better the outcome. To do this, ThriveNYC is hoping to put mental health clinics and consultants in schools across the boroughs.
ThriveNYC’s third step is to close the treatment gap by expanding care to under-served pockets across the city. The goal is to not just increase service availability but to also bring treatment provision up to expert-recommended standards. That means working with clinics, hospitals, and other professionals to locate residents in need and provide them with the care they deserve.
Partnering with communities is the crucial fourth step in the ThriveNYC initiative. For example, Connections to Care (C2C) will integrate mental health services into other programs that are already serving communities so that more people can find help. Most importantly, ThriveNYC believes that by teaming up with local organizations, which are trusted in their communities, they can help people feel comfortable enough to reach out and access care.
The fifth piece of the ThriveNYC program involves the way our city government collects, shares, and uses data. As an educator, your blogger has always known the importance of collecting data and using them in a way that makes sense. ThriveNYC plans to open a Mental Health Innovation Lab, which will allow the city to coordinate its data-gathering effort and analyze that data in a way that leads to providing the services that New Yorkers want and need.
Finally, ThriveNYC puts the onus on the city government to hold up its end of the bargain. Mayor DeBlasio and the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene are going to be working over the next few years to create an organized system of mental health care in our city. NYC WELL, for example, launched this past October. This is an anonymous, free, 24-hour call center that offers mental health support. They go beyond the classic emergency mental health hotline to also provide trained peer support, short-term counseling, assistance setting up appointments with a clinician, and follow-up calls to check in with callers and make sure they were able to connect with a professional in their community.
If ThriveNYC sounds as inspiring to you as it does to us, you may be interested in the following resources linked below for getting involved and potentially making a difference for a family in your community.
check out the website and let your family, friends, and neighbors know it’s time to start talking openly about mental health.