One of the things I love most about New Yorkers is that when it comes down to it, we are always willing to step up to help out our neighbors in need. Unfortunately, though, it seems that this mentality – which has gotten us through the darkest of times, including September 11th – does not carry over to our treatment of our city’s mentally ill, despite the fact that they represent a full 20% of our population. If you’re having difficulty wrapping your head around that number, or it doesn’t seem very high to you, think of it like this: if there are 20 people on a subway car, 4 of those people are living with a mental illness. You’d think that such a large demographic would be paid more attention to – but sadly, many people in NYC who are afflicted with a mental illness are fighting this battle alone. This is mostly due to widespread misconceptions about the nature of mental illness, a lack of community support, and inadequate treatment and maintenance programs for patients who need help managing their illnesses. Even though we’re one of the most progressive cities in the world, statistics about the mental health of New Yorkers make it clear that we still have a long way to go when it comes to changing how we care for our mentally ill. Here’s an infographic I made about this very topic – the data is unsettling, to say the least:
Even from these three statistics alone, it is glaringly obvious that we have a lot of work to do to fix this problem. After all, mental health issues impact all of us, from those afflicted to family members to coworkers to partners.
That’s why I am so passionately in favor of New York City’s initiative to overhaul our mental healthcare system, ThriveNYC. Piloted by Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of NYC, ThriveNYC consists of 54 initiatives to achieve this goal, including community outreach and education about mental health in underserved neighborhoods. This is of crucial importance, because studies have shown that severe mental illness is twice as common in adults who live below 200% of the poverty line, and also that residents of our city’s low-income communities are twice as likely to be hospitalized for mental illness as those in higher-income communities.
One revolutionary component of the ThriveNYC initiative is to train 250,000 New Yorkers – mostly Police, Firemen, and First Responders – in Mental Health First Aid, or how to recognize and handle mental illness in situations that all-too-often end in violence these days, due to a lack of understanding about this issue. The implications of this program are tremendous, and give me a lot of hope that we, as a city, will finally understand that mental illness is a disease, just like diabetes or arthritis, and should be spoken about and responded to as such.
Please visit the ThriveNYC website at https://thrivenyc.cityofnewyork.us/ to learn more about how you can support our neighbors who need your help the most. After all, based on the prevalence of mental illness in New York City, it’s extremely likely that someone you know is fighting a silent and lonely battle with a mental health disorder right this minute, and no New Yorker should have to fight this fight alone.