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1,000 Houses of Worship Join City's First Weekend of Faith For Mental Health

May 18, 2016

Quarter of a million New Yorkers will be reached as clergy spotlight issue of mental health to break down stigma, educate

Led by First Lady Chirlane McCray, city and elected representatives will fan out across city

NEW YORK—On May 20, 21, and 22, New York City will host the first ever Weekend of Faith for Mental Health. One thousand houses of worship, including some of the city’s largest from across faiths, will devote services to the issue of mental health, reaching a quarter of a million New Yorkers over the course of the weekend.

This Weekend of Faith for Mental Health represents the nation’s largest effort to engage faith leaders in a single push around mental health.

The First Lady, City Commissioners and elected representatives will visit houses of worship to share information about ThriveNYC, New York City’s $850 million plan to improve mental health services and promote mental wellness.

Clergy have an important role to play in improving the mental health of their communities. ThriveNYC recognizes this and provides a number of programs to train and build skills for clergy including:

  • A virtual learning center for community based organizations. The web-based learning center, which will host a skills training library, educational videos, tip sheets, links to resources and more, will have material designed to meet the needs of clergy.
  • The city has already developed a toolkit specifically for clergy and hosted coaching sessions to assist them with delivering positive messages about mental health to their houses of worship.
  • The city is working closely with houses of worship to host mental health first aid trainings, so New Yorkers can be trained in places where they are comfortable and with people that they trust.
  • The Administration sponsored five mental health first aid sessions, one in each borough, specifically to train clergy in anticipation of this weekend.

To support houses of worship participating in the weekend, the city developed a toolkit to support clergy members in their efforts to talk about mental health. That toolkit can be downloaded here.

“Clergy are New York City's frontline workers and first responders for mental distress in all of its forms.  Whether it is a widow with her grief turned to severe depression, a mother worrying about her daughter’s sudden change of personality or a husband overwhelmed by his wife’s anxiety, New Yorkers tend to consult their faith leaders,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “Hundreds of faith leaders are eager to help our city address the mental health crisis, and they are uniquely positioned to be allies in the effort. This weekend, one quarter of a million New Yorkers will hear from leadership they trust that mental illness and substance abuse disorders are treatable. And to have so many respected faith leaders  speak openly to their congregations about a subject that has been taboo for so long will go a long way to lift the stigma around mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

“During Mental Health Awareness month more than a quarter of a million New Yorkers will come together in 1,000 houses of worship to raise awareness of the importance of supporting mental health and well-being. It is imperative that we work together to break down negative attitudes and encourage and support people who are struggling with mental illness and substance misuse.  The first step is to talk openly and honestly. Weekend of Faith for Mental Health is an extraordinary opportunity to spread the message that mental health affects us all.  As a community, New Yorkers will be supporting those in need to get the care they deserve,” said Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.

"Regardless of how severe or how common someone's struggle with mental illness and substance use is, support from community can make a difference for recovery for the roughly 1 in 5 New Yorkers estimated to face such struggles each year.  We've heard from NYC residents and clergy across religious groups how faith communities can be sources for help, and leaders to change stigmatized attitudes, and embolden action. The Weekend of Faith for Mental Health focuses attention and reflection on fulfilling that potential of faith communities to help these fellow New Yorkers, to Thrive,” said Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“I commend First Lady Chirlane McCray on ThriveNYC and her inclusive engagement with faith leaders throughout the City. It speaks to her caring heart for the thousands who suffer from mental illness and the families that love them. It is personal for me as well, and I am committed to walking alongside her and to do my part as a faith leader in this city,” said the Rev. Que English, Senior Pastor at Bronx Christian Fellowship.

“ThriveNYC awareness weekend makes us stop whispering about mental illness and speak openly on helping those who need our strength and support,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis.

“The ThriveNYC initiative led by First Lady Chirlane McCray is important, powerful, and relevant. With assistance, religious leaders can be natural grassroots partners on the front line of contact with New Yorkers with psycho-spiritual challenges. Houses of worship, including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, have proven to be the first preferred refuges for people of faith in need. This includes Christians, Jews, Muslims and others, from everyday congregants to the mentally ill homeless or chemically dependent. However, relatively few religious leaders are trained for effective interventions requiring clinical knowledge or training, even if only for purposes of referral. ThriveNYC facilitates a partnership between those in need, and the mental health professionals and religious leaders that would help them. We Imams who are part of the initiative are grateful to Almighty God for the opportunity to partner with other religious leaders in such a noble endeavor. We encourage all to become involved,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.

“As an African American clergywoman, I am grateful for First Lady McCray and ThriveNYC. Through this program, churches will receive the tools needed to help those in need. And just as important, we will receive the help we need decrease the stigmas that have kept people of color from receiving the mental health assistance they need,” said Rev. Dominique Chantell Atchison, MDiv.

“Though people often worry about their physical health, they tend to often not pay attention to their mental health.  We all need to have a wholesome and healthy mind, as well as body. In Buddhism, we especially emphasize the mind. Buddhists practice focuses on living a wholesome life by cultivating a mind of wisdom and compassion. It is great to know that now New York City is increasing their efforts to bring greater awareness and attention to mental health issues. Likewise, to create such a program also shows kindness, wisdom and compassion from our city's leadership. We Buddhists support the Thrive NYC mental health initiative, and hope it will lead to healthier and happier lives for NYC residents,” said Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, Buddhist Council of New York.

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