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ThriveNYC intends to make mental health first aid as widely available as conventional first aid and CPR

New York Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, along with their son and daughter and city officials, announce the ThriveNYC program.

Photo by Mike Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, along with their son, Dante, and daughter, Chiara, at the 2015 announcement of "ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All."

"I still remember when people were afraid to say 'breast' and 'cancer”'out loud. I still remember when that disease was only discussed between sisters and girlfriends in stolen whispers. Thankfully, that has changed. Today, breast cancer survivors are proud to tell their stories, because they know the community has their back. It’s time to do the same when it comes to treating mental illness and promoting mental health."

— Chirlane McCray, First Lady, City of New York, in an opening letter to ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All

"We're facing a mental health crisis," says Chirlane McCray, the wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. One in four Americans — including her parents and teenage daughter — have suffered from depression or some other form or mental illness, she points out. "When Bill became mayor and I became first lady, I knew we had to do everything possible to bring comfort and resources to those who are suffering."

McCray has done that largely by championing ThriveNYC, a public health initiative launched in November 2015 and led by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. ThriveNYC is providing $850 million in funding over four years for a comprehensive set of mental health programs, including an ambitious effort, in partnership with the National Council on Behavioral Health, to offer free Mental Health First Aid Training to 250,000 people, beginning with first responders including police officers and firefighters. 

The goal is to make on-the-scene first aid for mental-health issues as widely available as conventional first aid, such as CPR. And McCray hopes the work of ThriveNYC will lead people to get help for issues such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse as readily as they now get, say, a flu shot.

"People experiencing mental illness and substance use disorders are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system.... Better preparation by officers and staff increases the likelihood an interaction will be a positive one."

— New York City Department of Health

The ThriveNYC initiative focuses on anxiety, depression, psychosis, substance use and trauma. Among the certifications available from the New York City Department of Health:

  • Adult Mental Health First Aid teaches participants how to help someone 18 years or older who is displaying signs of a mental illness or emotional crisis. 

  • Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed for adults (such as teachers, parents and caregivers) who regularly interact with adolescents ages 12 to 18. Participants learn a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

  • Public Safety Mental Health First Aid is designed to help first responders and other public safety professionals better understand mental illnesses and addiction. It focuses on the unique experiences and needs of law enforcement and public safety officials and teaches response options that can help safety officials de-escalate incidents without putting themselves at unnecessary risk. 

  • Veterans and Military Families Mental Health First Aid is specially designed for veterans, family members of veterans, and personnel working with the military and families. 

  • Higher Education Mental Health First Aid is its own offering since mental illnesses and substance use challenges often arise for students at colleges and universities. The course, a supplement to the core Adult Mental Health First Aid course, teaches college and university faculty, staff, families and students how to help each other. 

  • Older Adults Mental Health First Aid is a supplemental offering to the core Adult Mental Health First Aid course. According to the National Council on Aging, the number of Americans age 85 and older will triple by the year 2050. "Older adults and care partners are less likely to identify a problem as a symptom of a mental health disorder," notes the New York City Department of Health, adding that "older adults have high rates of late onset mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, and low rates of identification and treatment."

Mental Health First Aid was created in Australia by Betty Kitchener, a nurse, and Tony Jorm, a professor and mental-health researcher at the University of Melbourne. Their program has since been adapted for use in many other countries, including the United States, where roughly one-million people have been trained to provide emergency mental health assistance.

This article is an excerpt from the "Health and Wellness" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Ideas From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.

Page published October 2017 

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