ThriveNYC – the novel $850 million “mental health road map” announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray in November – has placed about a quarter of its 400 “Mental Health Service Corps” members, McCray recently announced.
“The city is training and paying,” the social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and addiction specialists who are being placed in high-need locations throughout the city, McCray said.
The need for mental health services is great, said McCray, who has been prominent in the dozens of mental health initiatives the city is rolling out to increase the prevention and treatment of mental illnesses.
“I was just visiting a senior center near city hall (and found out) the waiting time to see a psychiatrist who speaks Cantonese is three months,” McCray said. Corps members have been hired with an eye to increasing the ranks of clinicians who speak Spanish, Cantonese, Russian, Mandarin, Spanish and Haitian Creole in order to deliver culturally competent care to underserved populations.
Mental health services are not equally available to all residents. “There are 1,200 psychiatrists in Manhattan and in the Bronx, there is only one psychiatrist for every 13,000 residents” – almost 10 times fewer, McCray said. “We don’t have the mental health work force that we need and in the locations where we need them,” she added.
The placement of the Corps members – who should all be in place within three years - is intended to address disparities and reduce obstacles by locating mental health professionals in settings patients already use.
“When people can’t get access to services, their illness worsens,” said McCray, noting that there is an average “nine-year lag between the time that symptoms emerge” and the time people receive treatment for a mental illness. “That Corps member will be right there so they don’t have to go to another location,” McCray said.
People with mental illnesses don’t take “as good a care of their bodies,” as mentally healthy people, McCray continued, so patients who have a constellation of physical disorders that are worsened by their own lack of compliance with diet and medication instructions, can easily be referred to an on-site Corps member to help them change their self-destructive behaviors, she explained.
Corps members, who have a two-to-three-year term of service for which they are paid competitive salaries will earn supervised clinical hours toward their licenses as clinical social workers and psychologists. Already licensed psychiatrists and physicians will also be deployed, according to literature on the program.
Patients will also pay something for their treatment, McCray said.
But why can we not provide centers throughout the city that provide mental health services on demand — with no red tape at all — for the legions of anxious, delusional and depressed New Yorkers? By McCray’s own accounting, one in five New Yorkers struggle with a mental health issue.
McCray did not directly answer the question but hinted that additional initiatives were in the works. “We have not launched our NYC wellness program yet!” she said.