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First Lady McCray Hosts Leaders From Across Nation to Launch National Mental Health Coalition Cities Thrive

November 15, 2016

Cities Thrive members to advocate for mental health reform on national level, commit to implementing changes on local level

NEW YORK—First Lady Chirlane McCray this week held the first convening of Cities Thrive, a new national mental health coalition committed to driving mental health reform on a local and national level across the United States. Elected officials, public health advocates and mental health professionals from across the country, came together for Cities Thrive, a convening focused on building the first national, cities-based movement for mental health reform. The conference brought together Democrats and Republicans showing that even in a time of polarization, mental health reform remains an issue with bi-partisan support.

Over the course of two days, Cities Thrive worked to develop a national dialogue around adopting a public health approach to mental health and substance misuse, shared best practices for driving local change and began the push for federal partners to make mental health and substance misuse a top priority across party lines. Cities Thrive builds and expands upon the key principles for action underlying NYC’s groundbreaking mental health plan, ThriveNYC.

“Mental health is a part of so many challenges this country faces – from poverty and unemployment, to homelessness and public safety, to health care and child development. In local government, we see these challenges every day and must face them head-on, with or without broader support from our partners in the federal government. Mayors and representatives from every corner of the U.S. have gathered in NYC to say: whatever D.C. might do, Cities Thrive shows us what we can and must do on a local level to help our communities. We will work together, implement change and fiercely advocate until mental health is a priority across party lines and across this country,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We live in a society that still talks about mental illness and substance misuse in whispers – or not at all. This silence intensifies the fear and misunderstanding about common illnesses especially in communities that already have more than their fair share of suffering,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who spearheads ThriveNYC and hosted the Cities Thrive conference. “City by city, in red states and blue, we are building a coalition of leaders committed to a future where it’s as easy to get help for anxiety as allergies. Together, we will make sure our representatives in Washington understand the urgency of the mental health crisis and bring hope and services to our communities.”

"We envision a city where mental health is a priority – where it is easy to get support and treatment for mental illness and substance misuse. With ThriveNYC, the biggest and boldest mental health plan in the country, we're working to make that vision reality. But we know New York City doesn't have all the answers. That is why we are so excited to welcome policy makers from more than 60 cities to tackle America's mental health crisis head on," said Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives who oversees implementation of ThriveNYC and co-convened Cities Thrive. "Together, we can build a movement to ensure that everyone has access to an effective and accessible mental health system. Together, we can ensure that our cities thrive."

Cities Thrive members will both advocate at the national level and commit to implementing change in cities to improve mental health. Members of the Cities Thrive coalition have also signed a pledge to advocate in support of a stronger, more integrated, and better funded behavioral health system. This commits leaders to a range of actions, including participating in monthly coalition calls, engaging in national days of action, encouraging federal officials locally and nationally to pursue legislative initiatives to promote mental wellbeing, and providing consistent communication on mental health initiatives within local communities. Cities will commit to presenting their plans for local reform as they work together to press for federal reform.

First Lady McCray launched ThriveNYC in November 2015 to address the deficit of appropriate mental health services for New Yorkers. ThriveNYC is an unprecedented strategy and set of 54 initiatives by the City to approach mental health as a comprehensive public health challenge involving many City agencies. ThriveNYC aims to change the conversation and stigma surrounding mental illness and provide greater access to mental health care.

One in five Americans suffers from a mental health condition, which means everyone is directly or indirectly affected by the lack of adequate services. But for too long, discussion of anxiety, depression, substance misuse and other conditions have been stigmatized and have not received the level and breadth of response they require. The Cities Thrive coalition is committed to changing that stigma, as well as developing innovative ways cities can advance mental health prevention and promotion, close treatment gaps, and partner with communities to create culturally competent solutions.

“We need to have a national conversation on mental health care. Mayors understand challenges ignored by federal and state governments wind up putting some of our most vulnerable residents on our streets, living at the intersection of homelessness, poverty, and, all too often, jails. We can do better. Health and wellness are about more than exercise and good diet – if mental health issues aren’t addressed, a person cannot be truly healthy,” said Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

During the two-day conference on Monday and Tuesday, elected officials and mental health leaders came together to share best practices, greatest challenges, and ideas to move forward through a series of remarks and panel discussions on topics including strengthening government’s ability to lead, closing treatment gaps, better using data, changing the culture around mental health, and acting early, opioid use, and mental health first aid.

Cities Thrive coalition members include:

New York, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio 
Orlando, FL – Mayor Buddy Dyer
Birmingham, AL – Mayor William Bell
Fishers, IN – Mayor Scott Fadness
Cambridge, MA – Mayor Denise Simmons
Columbia, SC – Mayor Steve Benjamin
Oklahoma City, OK – Mayor Mick Cornett
San Francisco, CA –Mayor Ed Lee
South Bend, IN – Mayor Pete Buttigieg 
Baltimore, MD – Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake 
Laredo, TX – Mayor Pete Saenz 
Allentown, PA – Mayor Ed Pawlowski 
Albuquerque, NM – Mayor Richard Berry 
Mesa, AZ – Mayor John Giles
Oakland, CA – Mayor Libby Schaaf 
Urbana, IL – Mayor Laurel Prussing 
Boston, MA – Mayor Martin “Marty” Walsh 
Philadelphia, PA – Mayor Jim Kenney
Sacramento, CA – Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg
Louisville, KY – Mayor Greg Fischer
West Hollywood, CA – Mayor Lauren Meister
Seattle, WA – Mayor Edward Murray 
Newton, MA – Mayor Setti Warren 
Minneapolis, MN – Mayor Betsy Hodges 
Washington, DC – Mayor Muriel Bowser 
Congresswoman from California Grace Napolitano

Speakers include: First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray; Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio; Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization Shekhar Saxena; Mayor of Oklahoma City and President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Mick Cornett; Congressional Representative from California and Chair of the Mental Health Caucus Grace Napolitano; Mayor of Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky Greg Fischer; Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts Denise Simmons; Mayor of Fishers, Indiana Scott Fadness; Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Dennis Romero; Endowed Professor of Prevention and Founding Director of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington School of Social Work J. David Hawkins, Ph.D.; NYC Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Herminia Palacio; Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery; NYC Commissioner of Human Resources Administration Steve Banks; NYC Commissioner of Health Mary Bassett; Executive Deputy Commissioner at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Gary Belkin; and Commissioner of the NYC Department of Veterans Services Loree Sutton, Brigadier General.

“I’ve heard from too many families and medical providers that our mental health system is completely broken. We are now closer than we’ve been in a long time to passing comprehensive, meaningful reform in Congress, but we need all hands on deck. Initiatives like Cities Thrive that engage local communities on mental health reform will go a long way towards improving access to mental health care and reducing stigma. I applaud First Lady Chirlane McCray and all national, state, and local organizations involved in this partnership,” said Chris Murphy, Senator from Connecticut and co-author of the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act.

“We are not meeting the needs of people with mental health issues. The opioid crisis is getting bigger by the day. I have joined the Cities Thrive coalition because we need improvement in the behavioral health system and individual cities can’t do it alone. Together, we will pursue federal action to bring about higher quality and more innovative care,” said Ed Pawlowski, Mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

"It is time to have meaningful dialogue and true solutions on how best to improve and provide access to mental health care. Addressing the basic needs of citizens includes mental wellness and there is a true need on every level to focus on this aspect of overall everyday well-being of our citizens, especially the most vulnerable,” said William Bell, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

"Mental health awareness and reform is a critical issue facing communities across the country. Whether it a resident battling mental illness or a first responder battling PTSD, cities are impacted in many different ways. I'm proud to join a broad-based and bipartisan group of leaders committed to reforming the system,” said John Giles, Mayor of Mesa, Arizona.

"As a mayor, I see the importance of having adequate mental health resources available and accessible every day. Mental health care is an important community issue that has been all too often overlooked and we need to make adequate investment at every level of government in funding these programs. Since mental health affects a wide range of issues, providing individuals with mental health resources has a ripple effect across the community and enables more people to have healthy family and work relationships," said Setti Warren, Mayor of Newton, Massachusetts.

“In cities across our nation, we are faced with increasing homelessness, income insecurity, and high instances of trauma caused by violence. We need every tool available to help foster resiliency in our cities. High quality behavioral health services are vital for the safety and overall success of our communities, that’s why I am part of the Cities Thrive coalition,” said Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, California

“In the 12 years since we passed the landmark Mental Health Services Act in California, our state has made extraordinary progress increasing access to support, acceptance and resources for Californians struggling with mental health issues. Now, through the innovative Cities Thrive initiative, Sacramento will join with cities across the nation in elevating the public conversation around mental health, in sharing and adopting best practices, and in ensuring that those living with mental health conditions and their loved ones know that they are not alone and that our communities stand with them on their path to success and wellness,” said Darrell Steinberg, Mayor-Elect of Sacramento and author of the Mental Health Services Act.

"San Francisco has a long history of providing compassionate and innovative behavioral health services, and I am proud to join other cities in calling for increased attention and funding for these issues," said Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco. "Untreated mental illness and addiction are traumatic not just for the affected individuals but for entire communities. Cities are in a unique position to test new approaches for outreach and treatment, and we need strong regional and federal partnerships to keep pushing the envelope."

“Cities have unique resources when it comes to mental health, especially as we work to address economic and racial disparities in access to care. Our city’s density and size position us to bring original solutions to the stigma and isolation of mental health challenges. I am pleased to join this national coalition to exchange ideas and support in the effort to deliver solutions that will empower everyone to thrive,” said Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

“The City of West Hollywood is pleased to join the Cities Thrive coalition. Like other members of this coalition, our city's core values include supporting people through social services. We encourage policies and programming that promote healthy lifestyles – for example, physical activity, preventative screenings, healthful eating and core wellness for people of all ages and abilities. We support legislation to increase funding of and access to community health, mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. By building this coalition, cities will be stronger together,” said Lauren Meister, Mayor of West Hollywood.

New York State Senator Jesse Hamilton, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, said, “First Lady Chirlane McCray and Mayor de Blasio have consistently committed to bringing mental health to the forefront. Cities Thrive continues that leadership – focusing attention on this key area of public health with an eye towards deepening our cooperation, learning from our common experience, and building towards approaches that will secure a better quality of life for all. I know that with efforts like this, with sustained momentum, we can craft a future for mental health policy and practice that fosters respect and increases well-being.”

"As the Ranking Member of the Senate's Health Committee, I applaud First Lady Chirlaine McCray for launching Cities Thrive, a new national mental health coalition that aims to continue the dialogue around mental health reform and substance misuse at the local, state and national level," said New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera. "By bringing together elected officials, public health advocates and mental health professionals from across the country, this coalition will go a long way in putting forth legislative initiatives across all levels of government that will help thousands of Americans who suffer from mental health illnesses."

Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services, said, “First Lady Chirlane McCray’s leadership through ThriveNYC is a model for cities around the country as they grapple with the challenge of changing attitudes toward mental health issues. The Cities Thrive event is an opportunity to learn together about effective training strategies and other community-based initiatives to promote mental well-being.”

“Now more than ever, we need to assert every American’s right to affordable, accessible community health care,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. Cities Thrive is going to move the community-based model forward in a big way, and that’s how we get better care to neighborhoods in New York and across the country. By sharing resources and breakthroughs, America’s cities and towns can make great progress together. I thank First Lady Chirlane McCray, Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and our Department of Health, and all the participants of this incredible program nationwide.”

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