New York City's first lady Chirlane McCray has a message for everyone: It's time to stop ignoring mental health issues.
McCray and her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), recently launched ThriveNYC, an $850 million mental health initiative. The project aims in part to change negative stereotypes around mental illness by offering educational programs and to address disparities in mental health care by offering more access to treatment in each of the city's neighborhoods.
This issue hits close to home for McCray, whose daughter Chiara has been open about her struggle with mental health issues.
"It touches all of us," she told HuffPost Live. "I've travelled all across the city this year and in every room I ask: 'Who here has not been affected by somebody with a mental health challenge? If you have not been affected, raise your hand.' Let me tell you: No one has ever raised their hand."
One in five New Yorkers is affected by a mental health condition in any given year, McCray notes, and the numbers are even bigger on a larger scale: One in four people experience mental illness in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization. And mental illness doesn't just affect the individual -- it can be a struggle for families and loved ones as well.
ThriveNYC will cover a spectrum of conditions, from postpartum depression to substance abuse disorders, through informational programs and community outreach with mental health professionals. The initiative will provide help for young children and teens by integrating more mental health services in schools.
The program will also fund data collection to get more information about the prevalence of mental illness in New York City and how well-being affects residents.
McCray wants to encourage an open conversation that can change the way we see people with mental illness.
"We need all kinds of people to open up and talk about this thing that is so difficult to talk about," she said. "If people don't talk about it, we're not going to get to the solutions we need."
The new program also implicitly accomplishes something that's so far remained unsaid: Instead of treating therapy like a commodity or indulgence, we need to start viewing these illnesses and their treatments as normal and necessary aspects of life.
What the rest of the country can learn
While ThriveNYC is a much-needed contribution to mental health, we need a broader approach nationwide. A report conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that the resources available to people with mental illness are less than ideal. And when it comes to poverty and its link to mental health disorders, the outlook is even more bleak.
The national conversation around mental health needs work, too. Mass shootings are a good example: Mental illness is often used as a scapegoat by public figures and media organizations during the early stages of covering a tragedy. The reality is that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of a violent crime rather than the ones committing them.
Mental illness is manageable with the right diagnosis and clinical support. However, many people with mental health conditions don't seek treatment due to fear of judgment. The issue is cyclical -- and we have to break the cycle. Not just in New York City, but in America.
Take a look at the HuffPost Live clip above to learn more about the ThriveNYC program.
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