For Chirlane McCray, mental illness is a big part of everyday life.

It began with her parents, both of whom were depressed, but neither of whom were the type to talk about their problems, much less seek help.

"I didn't know that they were suffering from depression—I didn't have that word in my vocabulary," she told a group of reporters assembled at Gracie Mansion yesterday. "But now that I look back on it...it’s quite obvious to me now that that’s what was going on."

Then there was the high school friend who committed suicide when she was 26, an event McCray called "devastating." As she grew older, the examples just kept coming. But it wasn't until her daughter, Chiara, was diagnosed with anxiety and depression that McCray knew she had to act.

"It's always been the elephant in the room, wherever I go," she said. With time, McCray learned that the elephant wasn't confined to her own family—it was everywhere. One in four New Yorkers, in fact, suffer from a diagnosable mental illness.

"If it was identified as a public health problem, like the flu or cancer or breast cancer—any of those things—we would be saying 'This is a crisis!' And it is a crisis," she said.

Since her husband, Bill de Blasio, took office last January, McCray has been busy tackling the crisis head-on. The executive budget, announced in May, commits $78.3 million in funding for new services aimed at "the most vulnerable New Yorkers"—those who have "the toughest time and the fewest options" when it comes to mental health.

In the fall, McCray and her staff will submit an RFP for a $30 million grant-funded project called "Connections to Care," which will train employees at existing community organizations, like day cares and job placement centers, to identify and help counsel those with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and similar mental health problems. The goal is to de-stigmatize mental illness and enable sufferers to seek help in their communities, at the same places they're already going for other services. The program is expected to launch next spring.

McCray also emphasized the importance of screening kids early, and training teachers to address potential emotional problems before they mushroom into larger issues with wider ranging impact. And earlier this month, de Blasio introduced NYC Safe, a joint initiative between the Department of Health, the NYPD, and homeless services agencies which will set out to identify, treat, and regularly follow up with New Yorkers who have both a history of mental illness, and a history of violent behavior.

McCray, though, is hesitant to tie the criminally insane with the population she is trying to reach. According the city's health department [PDF], roughly 239,000 adult New Yorkers—or four percent—had a serious mental illness in 2012. McCray is adamant that workaday New Yorkers not feel lumped in with more extreme cases.

"People have these images in their mind, they don't want to be a member of this stigmatized group, they don't want to be seen as somebody like a homeless person or someone who's been in jail—these negative images," she said. "I think it's terrible that they're tied so closely together, because I think it prevents people from wanting to reach out and get help."

More than anything, McCray wants to focus on prevention, making sure that counselors are available in schools and that teachers are trained to help students who are struggling, rather than punish them. After all, symptoms of maladies like depression and anxiety tend to first begin appearing around age 14—but treatment doesn't generally begin until age 23.

"Kids get weighed, they get their eyes checked, but there's also the other component—their emotional health. When people don't get the services they need when they need them, it just grows and grows," she said. "It becomes a problem for the family, community—and sometimes it becomes news."