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Transcript: First Lady McCray Announces Plan to Develop a More Effective and Inclusive Mental Health System in New York City, Holds Press Availability

May 5, 2015

First Lady Chirlane McCray: Thank you, Barbara. Good afternoon, everyone. Before I begin, I’d like us to observe a moment of silence in honor of Officer Brian Moore.

[First Lady Chirlane McCray observes moment of silence]

I’d like to thank everyone at NAMI, Philosophy, and all of your partners in the Hope & Grace Initiative. Your work will go a long way to advance a simple but essential truth – there is no health without mental health. For far too long, we’ve had a tale of two health systems – one for physical health and one for mental health. People should feel just as comfortable seeking treatment for their mind as they do for their body. And we need to strengthen and expand the network of mental health programs. 

Here in New York City, we are working hard to put those truths into action. With the leadership of my husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, we are developing a more effective and inclusive mental health system – one that meets the needs of New Yorkers where they live, and a model that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation. Today, as we celebrate the beginning of National Mental Health Month, I am proud to announce that New York City is taking a first step to promote that goal – and it’s a big one. On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will unveil an executive budget that includes $78.3 million dollars in new annual mental health spending for services by Fiscal Year 2017. Let me repeat – $78.3 million.


Those dollars will reach a lot of people and will do a lot of good. The services will be targeted to the most vulnerable New Yorkers because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the six months I’ve spent meeting with experts, advocates, seniors, students, parents, and children – mental illness does not discriminate by income. But when it comes to getting treatment, those at the bottom of the economic ladder have the toughest time and the fewest options. That has to change, and it will. With the launch of these initiatives, New York City is making an unprecedented commitment to closing the gaps in our mental health system.

Let’s start with community schools, which are located in high-need neighborhoods, and bring social services into the school building. We are going to create mental health clinics in every community school that needs one. The clinics will provide more than 62,000 young people with access to mental health services, and that’s because we know that access to early treatment will help children who are struggling with mental health challenges to lead fuller, more productive, and happier lives. We will place licensed clinical social workers in each of the 72 contracted family shelters. Our Department of Homeless Services will connect 8,900 families to a crucial lifeline. Now, many of these families have experienced significant trauma, and getting them help doesn’t mean just getting them a place to sleep. 

Last year, our runaway and homeless youth shelters saw more than 2,000 young people. So many of these young people are struggling to process the pain they have experienced. That is especially true for young people who identify as LGBTQ, and have seen their families turn against them. That’s why we’re going to provide mental health services in all 15 runaway and homeless youth shelters.

To help the victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives, we will invest in full-time mental health services at all five Family Justice Centers, which serve more than 36,000 people a year. We are launching nine new initiatives that stretch across multiple agencies. Our Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will take the lead on coordinating our work, provide technical support, and make sure we engage community partners every step of the way.

Now, last week I had a visit to IS 445 – IS 145 in Jackson Heights, Queens. And while I was there, I met a remarkable young mother, and I’m going to call her Mrs. Lopez and she has a daughter who I’m going to call Gabriela. Mrs. Lopez emigrated from Mexico and she spent years apart from her daughter because she wanted to come here and really build a better life – a stable life for her family before she brought her daughter here. She left Gabriela when she was only two. She did the best she could and she got Gabriela here as soon as possible, but by that time she got her here, Gabriela was eight years old. And the reunion did not go smoothly. Gabriela acted in unpredictable ways and Mrs. Lopez really didn’t know what to do with her. She described Gabriela as having un corazón duro – a hard heart. And that’s not surprising because severe separation in early life leaves emotional scars on the brain of a young child. And that happens countless times across our city.

Young Gabriela did not know what to make of her new life and Mrs. Lopez did not know what to do, where to take her. So, she went to the church. She went to the hospital and they could not help her. And finally, she turned to the school and fortunately, there is a full-service mental health clinic in IS 44 – 145. I’m struggling with that number. And they were able to provide the services that she needed. Both of them are so much happier now. Mrs. Lopez is so, so grateful. And I want to say that soon, because of Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to mental health, there will be more clinics like the one that helped Gabriela. And there will be more grateful parents like Mrs. Lopez.

But these investments are just a first step. This fall, we will release a road map that will lay out how we plan to build a system that makes mental health care more accessible and serves New Yorkers better. The challenges before us are daunting but I am confident that we will rise above them because we are a big-hearted city – una ciudad con un gran corazón. And when we work together, there is no crisis we can’t overcome. Thank you all for being here today. 


Question: [Inaudible] traveling around [inaudible] different mental health [inaudible]. How much of what’s in this plan came from the conversations you had with different groups? Can you give me any specific examples of something that they turned you on to that are now in this plan?

First Lady: I would say that something for all of these initiatives came from my travels around the five boroughs – conversations that I’ve had with agency heads. You know, ACS, HRA, DOE – I mean, the whole alphabet – NYPD – A whole alphabet of agencies. And the example I gave you about Mrs. Lopez today – that certainly fueled our [inaudible] with the communities [inaudible].

Question: You’ve spoken a lot in the past about how your family’s own experiences with mental health issues have informed your own policies here. Are there any particular points in this plan that sort of stem from any of your personal experiences?

First Lady: Well, my personal experiences fuel my passion for the topic. [Inaudible] because it’s personal. It comes from the heart. And it’s my family – you know, my parents suffered from depression. My daughter recently talked about her struggling with anxiety, and depression, and addiction. But also, in my life, I feel as though it’s the one thing that no one ever talks about but everyone is affected in some way. I know now that one in four people have an undiagnosed mental health issue. That’s in New York State – probably nationally. That’s a huge number, but no one ever talks about it. And that means it’s pervasive and there’s a huge stigma. And that’s something that’s come out of the shadows. I remember there was time when we talked about, you know, [inaudible] cancer. Right? Those were like, you know, words that were never spoken. And now we’ve gotten [inaudible] breast cancer survivors are completely out there. They know that [inaudible] have their back. We need to do that same thing with mental health issues.

Question: [Inaudible]

First Lady: Well, I think most importantly, we will talk with them. We will find out whether there’s been some trauma, whether there’s been anxiety or depression, whether there’s other things that need to be addressed. I would like our commissioner of homeless services to speak to that.

Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, Department of Homeless Services: So the [inaudible] in the family shelters are going to be working both all of our clients and their children who are in those shelters to help coordinate services. And so, many of our families are multi-system involved, so they may have child welfare involvement, they may have domestic violence in their lives – and finding ways in which social workers can help them navigate all the systems to support them through their journey [inaudible].

Question: You mentioned this was only the first step. Can you address some of the other steps that you would like to see [inaudible]?

First Lady: I’m glad you asked that question. We are actually putting together a road map right now to measure the opportunities and the challenges of our mental health system. We want to look at the disparities between neighborhoods and in terms of how services are offered. We also want to measure the economic impact of not addressing mental health issues. Doctor [inaudible] would like to add to that?

Unknown: Yes, this is – we’re very excited about this. We’re very excited about this first step in moving in a direction where we push out and go in and reach more people. And that’s really the strategy. The road map is going to identify how we make that strategy to be more [inaudible] think about developing and investing in mental health [inaudible].

Question: [Inaudible]

First Lady: Annual funding. Funding that will be [inaudible].

Question: Just one thing – on the funding front. Have you been a part of the actual budget discussion in terms of where money goes, how much money goes where? Or is [inaudible]?

First Lady: I have [inaudible] budget meetings. My focus has been primarily the areas that should be targeted. [Inaudible] There you are.

Unknown: The first lady was active in the [inaudible] budget process. It’s really very exciting because really, we’ve not seen this kind of investment in over three decades in New York City [inaudible].

First Lady: I would add that we haven’t had a deep dive into where our funding is for more than 30 years. That’s – no one’s actually looked at it where the funding is. As I said, we have services provided by so many different agencies. They’re all over the city – NYPD, DOE – you know, as I said. But no one’s actually looked at where those dollars are going and what the level of services [inaudible]. This is a pretty good story.

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