Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCary, and their children Chiara and Dante stood before reporters on Monday afternoon to announce a $305 million commitment to destigmatize and expand treatment for the mentally ill.
Unlike a $22 million plan introduced over the summer geared explicitly towards mentally-ill New Yorkers with a history of violence, the new ThriveNYC plan has a much broader scope, hypothetically addressing the needs of veterans with PTSD, mothers with postpartum depression, substance addicts seeking treatment, college students, and homeless youth with depressive symptoms.
The backdrop for this programing is a public awareness campaign aimed at "changing the culture" surrounding mental illness in NYC. According to the city, at least one in five New Yorkers is likely to grapple with a mental health issue in any given year. More than 25% of all students reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless in the last year, and drug overdose deaths outnumbered homicides.
"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," McCray told reporters over the summer. "I think it's terrible that they're tied so closely together [with mental illness], because I think it prevents people from wanting to reach out and get help."
As if to set an example, de Blasio got very personal with reporters this afternoon, describing his own father's battle with alcoholism.
"My dad would deny that he had an alcohol problem after many, many drinks… he would say he could quit smoking any time he wanted," the mayor said. "He’d take the pack of cigarettes... and throw it out the window of the car and say, 'See, I can quit any time I want.' Except there was a whole other carton in the glove compartment."
Charles Rangel at de Blasio announcement on mental health: "I have never attended a more educational or emotional press conference"
— laura (@nahmias) November 23, 2015
The $305 million in new funding, to be distributed over the next four years, will fund 23 new initiatives, including the immediate dispersal of 100 mental health consultants across the city's public school system, and the training of "at least" 1,000 new providers of buprenorphine, a drug that dampens opioid cravings. Starting next year, the city's 24/7 mental health crisis hotline will offer non-crisis referrals, help New Yorkers set up appointments based on their insurance options, and even conduct basic text and phone counseling sessions.
Another $1 million in grant money will go towards organizations that offer holistic treatment for Veterans suffering from chronic pain, anxiety and insomnia. And a pilot program at certain CUNY schools will provide college students with apps to "self-manage" their mental health.
A new Mental Health Service Finder, currently in Beta, allows users to narrow their health treatment searches by age, type of care (mental health, substance abuse, both), and type of insurance (or lack thereof). A more refined search function filters for young mothers, domestic abuse victims, HIV/AIDS patients, and veterans.
Towards the end of the conference, a reporter asked the mayor if he had ever sought mental health counseling himself.
"Back when I was in graduate school... I was going through some challenges, and I sought some counseling for a few weeks," he said. "I got a few things off my chest and felt better."