By The Editorial Board
November 25, 2015
As too many people know only too well, mental health is a world of unmet needs and untold suffering. Society’s ability to identify and treat emotional ailments and addiction is painfully inadequate. Families, left to themselves, struggle and fail. They often lack the resources to confront problems or don’t try: two things in plentiful supply are ignorance and denial.
Into this void, bearing a multiagency “road map” with a kitchen-sink approach, has stepped Mayor Bill de Blasio. In an emotional news conference on Monday, he unveiled a citywide initiative, called “ThriveNYC,” to tackle mental illness and addiction.
The plan’s six “guiding principles” and 54 programs encompass widely varying things like training for 250,000 New Yorkers in mental health “first aid,” a public-service ad campaign, early-childhood programs teaching social and emotional skills, more screening and treatment for maternal depression, and new initiatives in online education and data collection.
The human element includes 100 consultants in the schools to connect students with care, as well as a “Mental Health Corps” of 400 doctors and clinicians to work in high-need neighborhoods. Together with other programs, like the mayor’s recently announced plan to build 15,000 units of supportive housing for those who need social services as well as housing, ThriveNYC is meant to strengthen the web of protection for the city’s most vulnerable residents, on par with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s groundbreaking advances in fighting smoking, obesity and other threats.
It will take months, maybe years, to see what ThriveNYC amounts to. Not all of the money or programs are new, though the label is. The mayor’s announcement could be a turning point for a city making progress in containing a sprawling crisis, or it could recede to become one among many well-trumpeted initiatives that fade on the follow-through. The mayor’s office has a strenuous job ahead, to focus on what is practical and achievable, not politicized and rhetorical. But given the well-established need — in the rates of depression and suicide, the recent surge in heroin overdoses, the prevalence of mental illness in city jails — it’s hard to argue against efforts to achieve what the mayor says he will with ThriveNYC.
One only has to walk the streets of the city to see the untreated suffering of many of the people sleeping and begging in the street. They are the most visible evidence of the epidemic. Other administrations have confronted parts of the problem, alternating between tough and tender, though never in a comprehensive way. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has recently been lecturing the mayor about the need to harass homeless people on the street until they are forced into treatment or go away and become some other city’s problem.
Mr. de Blasio deserves credit for raising the issue of mental health, and setting so high a bar. His news conference had a personal edge: The mayor’s voice broke as he spoke of his father’s alcoholism, and how his daughter, Chiara, has struggled with drugs and depression. The de Blasio family’s willingness to acknowledge its own troubles sets a good example for a city that needs to find — and stay on — a path to better mental health