NYC first lady launches mental health programs for seniors

New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery and Department for the Aging Commissioner Donna Corrado earlier this month launched ThriveNYC’s Geriatric Mental Health Initiative, a package of mental health services that will be offered at 15 senior centers this year and at an additional 10 centers in 2017.

Mental health clinicians will provide on-site therapy, as well as educational workshops, mental health screening, referrals, and engagement activities that help de-stigmatize mental illness, the Mayor’s Office said.

Through ThriveNYC, the Department for the Aging will also launch friendly visiting to homebound seniors to help prevent social isolation, which increases the risk of chronic health conditions, depression, anxiety and other serious health issues.

“My own parents suffered from untreated mental health problems that prevented them from fully enjoying the success they earned through many years of hard work,” said McCray, who traces her roots to St. Lucia and Barbados and who spearheads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts.

“Stigma and lack of resources kept mental health in the shadows and kept my parents from seeking out support that could have improved their lives,” she added. “For too long, seniors have suffered from mental illnesses with shame and few options to help them get well.

“But we’re changing that,” McCray continued. “People get stronger, and stigma weakens with every open and honest conversation, and we are creating more resources to make sure those conversations continue. Through the ThriveNYC Geriatric Mental Health Initiative, we’re putting clinicians at dozens of senior centers across the city and launching home visits to decrease social isolation.

“The lived experience, wisdom and work of our elders are an important resource for our city,” she said. “We’re proud to have another tool to support them.”

Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, said: “ThriveNYC is a comprehensive plan to strengthen New York City’s mental health system for everyone. That includes thinking about mental health and wellbeing at every stage of life – from early childhood to the senior years.

“The Department for the Aging’s Geriatric Mental Health and friendly visiting initiatives are directed toward the unique needs of NYC seniors – a segment of our population that is most vulnerable to the impacts of untreated and undertreated mental health challenges,” he said. “New Yorkers are living longer, and they are choosing to stay in the city. Our job is to make sure they can thrive as they do so.”

Corrado said the further away older adults need to go to obtain mental health services, the less likely they are to follow through and use services, pointing to research that shows that integrating mental health services into non-traditional settings improves services access, receipt of services and positive outcomes.

“Our Geriatric Mental Health Initiative follows this model by embedding mental health professionals in our centers,” she said. “The embedded practitioners will become familiar faces seniors can trust. We are also so pleased to be able to offer friendly visiting through our case management agencies to homebound older adults at risk of social isolation.”

According to the Mayor’s Office, prevalence estimates suggest that 20 to 22 percent of older adults meet criteria for a mental disorder nationally.

Within New York State, the Office said the number is expected to increase by 56 percent, from 495,000 persons in 2000 to 772,000 by 2030, as the number of older adults in the general population increases.

“Many older adults are not diagnosed, are misdiagnosed, or do not seek treatment,” the Office said. “Some older adults may have histories of psychological disorders, while others may develop new problems related to aging.”

By stationing clinicians on site, the Mayor’s Office said Geriatric Mental Health Initiative makes treatment more accessible and thus helps to overcome a major barrier.

It said the mental health clinicians will also actively engage seniors in informal activities that help raise awareness about mental wellbeing and to de-stigmatize mental health treatment

The Mayor’s Office said the Department for the Aging is partnering on this initiative with four community-based providers of mental health services – CAPE at the Samuel Field Y, JASA, SPOP and Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Each program will station one or more of their clinicians at assigned centers, said the Mayor’s Office, stating that JASA will be working with centers in the Bronx; SPOP with centers in Manhattan; CAPE with centers in Queens; and Weill Cornell with centers in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

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