BY TRONE DOWD
New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray dropped by the Queens Central Library in Jamaica to discuss Thrive NYC—an initiative to help those suffering from mental health conditions throughout the city—and its impact on Queens since its inception.
The event was held with three goals in mind: educating people on the city resources available to those suffering from some form of mental illness or addiction, connecting those in need to the appropriate contacts and getting feedback from constituents as to how Thrive NYC services could be improved. Joined by more than 10 city officials who have been monitoring the mental health assistance program, McCray shared a number of successes that the program has seen since its inception in 2015.
“One in five New Yorkers suffers from a mental illness or addiction,” she said. “Last year, nearly every day, four New Yorkers overdosed on opioids. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of suffering. These are diseases, not lack of character or discipline. And it is all treatable.”
She said that a big part of the success of this program has been education and offering 24-hour services to those in need—which are just two of the 54 programs offered through Thrive NYC. Every public school in the five boroughs now offers some form of mental health support. Queens specifically has seen 10 new clinics dedicated to assisting people in need of support. The citywide hotline, 1-888-NYCWELL, offers free confidential help to people suffering from any number of conditions and connects them to trained counselors. The service has assisted 150,000 callers.
McCray said that more than 8,000 calls have been from Queens residents.
“It shows the hunger and need for this kind of help,” she said.
Both Queens Library President Dennis Walcott and Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) commended the first lady for not only focusing on the taboo subject of mental illness, but bringing that discussion to communities of color around the city.
“The first lady is really at the forefront of mental health,” Miller said. “Because of that and the work she and Mayor [Bill] de Blasio have done on this issue, they have really brought us from the darkness—in particular, this community and African American immigrant communities, where we’re saddled with the stigma and [won’t] address those issues. It is okay to talk about it now and that is evidenced by the folks who are in the room here right now. We are not alone.”
The councilman mentioned that African Americans are 20 percent more likely to suffer from mental illness than their white counterparts.
McCray said that she has made mental health a major focus of her tenure as first lady, due to her personal experience with loved ones.
“My parents suffered from depression when I was growing up,” McCray said. “They were fantastic parents who provided an extraordinary life for us and devoted themselves to family. But I would always wonder to myself, ‘Where’s the joy and happiness?’ It wasn’t until I grew up and learned about the signs and symptoms of depression and what they must have been going through.”
McCray told the Press of Southeast Queens that children should be taught at a young age about identifying the symptoms of mental illness and the importance of seeking help in those situations.
“We want them to know how to behave in a respectful manner to those who may be different from them,” she said.
“We’re also training our teachers to recognize when children are walking through the door and are potentially dealing with things outside of the classroom.”