New roadmap for mental health in NYC has cross-sector roots, promises cross-sector action

blogimage_Roadmap“It is long overdue to acknowledge that our inattention to mental illness is a public health crisis that requires a public health solution,” wrote New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray in a recent opinion piece for McCray, who is also Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, will soon unveil a new strategy for addressing this crisis in New York City — a roadmap that has not only relied on consultation with stakeholders from across sectors, but also promises to recommend solutions that bridge sectors and silos.

The plan, set to be released this fall, comes after many months of engagement with service providers and recipients, city agencies, and other stakeholders, according to recent in-depth coverage in the Gotham Gazette. Its approach is underpinned by cross-sector, systems-wide thinking: “Informing the entire plan will be the notion that both governmental and non-governmental service providers of all kinds can contribute to a better, more intertwined mental health care system,” the publication reported. According to the Gazette, one of the road map’s key priorities will be enabling greater communication and coordination among those service providers and supporters. The report will recommend “improved and sustained communication among service providers, city government, and organizations for mental health care advocacy.” Other priorities include reducing the stigma of mental illness and educating the general public about mental illness.

Several programs unveiled by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration this year foreshadow this cross-sector approach, including Connections to Care (CTC), announced this summer. The $30 million program, which aims to expand access to care for low income and at risk communities, is the result of an intersector collaboration among the City, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and private funders.

Earlier this year, the de Blasio administration announced a budget that invested additional mental health funding across systems, including the city’s prison system, where “people with behavioral health issues [are] needlessly cycling through.” Every year in the United States 2 million adults with serious mental illness like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and major depression are admitted to jails. Many of these individuals are convicted for relatively minor crimes like loitering or causing a public disturbance — offenses that stem from their illness or addiction rather than intent to do harm. These individuals tend to stay in jail longer and are at a higher risk of recidivism than those without mental illness. In December 2014, the de Blasio Administration launched a plan to tackle this issue in the city to the tune of $130 million.

Cross-sector approaches to mental health in jails and prison are on the rise across the county. The Stepping Up Initiative, a coalition among the American Psychiatric Association, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the National Association of Counties (NACO), which we blogged about this year, similarly aims to bring together intersector partners to steer and support systematic, long term efforts to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in county jails.

Like the Stepping Up Initiative and other similar programs, McCray’s roadmap offers the promise of systems-wide change through the involvement of multiple stakeholders and sectors, each of whom brings their own resources, expertise, and authority to approaching a problem left unsolved by years of single-sector, siloed approaches.