As New York City continues to navigate the fallout of COVID-19, a new crisis is upon us. In October 2020, nearly 40% of New Yorkers reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. In January 2021, The New York Times reported fivefold increases in psychologist services and long waiting lists for mental health care. A mental health crisis in New York City is playing out among family members in cramped apartments; among frontline workers providing essential services in grocery aisles, delivery trucks, and emergency rooms; and increasingly in the city’s public spaces like sidewalks and subways.
Our city is not unique in facing a public mental health emergency. However, one piece of good news is that we are uniquely prepared to respond.
Though often maligned by some, the ThriveNYC initiative has consolidated and strengthened New York City’s broad spectrum of mental health services, from efforts to destigmatize asking for help to intensive 24/7 treatment for people living with serious mental illness. While public policy efforts must be—and are—held accountable for resource allocation and results, ThriveNYC’s innovation in how a large and complex city approaches its residents’ mental health is the kind of groundbreaking civic initiative that has long-defined New York City.
By and large, ThriveNYC has created a robust citywide infrastructure of mental health services that are now pivoting to rapidly respond to New Yorkers’ increasingly urgent needs. Cutting funding to ThriveNYC—as has been suggested by some candidates running for Mayor—would cause significant harm to hundreds of thousands of individuals in need of assistance; individuals who currently rely on ThriveNYC programs. Such cuts would disproportionately impact communities of color and people who rely on publicly-funded health services, the very individuals and communities most severely impacted by COVID-19. And they would directly hinder the city’s recovery from the mental health crisis surging in the pandemic’s wake.
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have relied on the more than 30 programs ThriveNYC has funded since 2016. This is possible through the partnerships ThriveNYC has fostered with more than 200 nonprofit organizations, many of which have been working for years to provide New Yorkers facing difficult challenges with the holistic, wraparound care they need not just to survive but to succeed. While these organizations receive funding from diverse sources, ThriveNYC’s commitment to funding innovative approaches to mental health has allowed us to deliver the cutting-edge services that people in a city as complex as New York need and deserve.
These innovative services mean help is available in schools, senior centers, homeless shelters, or wherever in the community someone calls home. It means support for mothers with newborn babies, for veterans, and for New York City employees. It means victim advocates in police precincts citywide. It means intensive services for individuals with serious mental illness involved in the court system.
Community-based organizations funded by ThriveNYC are the frontline defense against the mental health crisis New York now faces, a crisis likely to be experienced as individual and community trauma long after the last vaccine is administered. Recovery as a city from this pandemic requires continuing investment in mental health. Let’s leverage the investment we’ve made in ThriveNYC to help all New Yorkers bounce back.
Joel Copperman is the CEO of CASES and Liz Roberts is the CEO of Safe Horizon. We are joined in this statement by Muzzy Rosenblatt, Bowery Residents Committee, Amy Dorin, The Coalition for Behavioral Health, Traci Donnelly, The Child Center of NY, Michelle Yanche, Good Shepherd Services, David Garza, Henry Street Settlement, Mitchell Netburn, Samaritan Daytop Village, and Keith Little, SCO Family of Services.