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1 in 5 New Yorkers Have Mental Illness, Health Department Says

By Jeff Mays | November 13, 2015 11:15am
 Ahead of releasing a long-awaited
Ahead of releasing a long-awaited "roadmap" to address mental health issues in New York City, led by First Lady Chirlane McCray, the Department of Health released a report that found that one of five New Yorkers experience a mental health disorder.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — Ahead of releasing a long-awaited "roadmap" to address mental illness in New York City, the Department of Health released a report that found one in five New Yorkers experience mental health issues.

According to the report, 630,000 New Yorkers with government or private health insurance sought mental health treatment in 2013 — approximately 8.3 percent of the city's population.

Yet, in spite of the prevalence, New Yorkers still are not receiving the care they need. The report found that 41 percent of New Yorkers with a serious mental illness reported needing treatment in the last year but either delayed it or did not receive it.

At any given time, more than 500,000 New Yorkers are estimated to have depression, yet less than 40 percent are getting treatment.

    "That picture is fairly daunting. We have a set of public health issues that affect many people very deeply," said Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

    "This issue is everyone's business."

    The report is a precursor to ThriveNYC, an initiative being overseen by first lady Chirlane McCray that seeks to change how the city deals with mental health issues. Details of the initiative are due to be released any day now, officials said.

    The scope of the problem and its ambitious goals are why the project has been in the works for a year, Belkin said.

    "There has been stuff out there about why this is taking so long but this has not been a small or easy task," Belkin said during a call with reporters Thursday.

    That's why the effort to change the way mental health is dealt with in the city starts with the data, he said.

    "This is where we started to ask the question of what's the scale, size and nature of this problem," said Belkin. "We could then build a strategy that's data driven and starts with a comprehensive picture."

    Belkin said even more data is needed and changing the ways mental health data is collected is likely to be a part of the new "roadmap."

    He declined to release any details about what the "roadmap" will recommend but said those recommendations will be rolled out immediately after the report is released or over the course of the next year.

    Among the other findings in the report include:

    ► The city loses $14 billion in productivity per year due to depression and substance abuse.

    ► Private and government insurers spent $17 billion on mental health treatment on 630,000 New Yorkers in 2013.

    ► Deaths from unintentional drug overdoses outpace both homicides and motor vehicle deaths combined.

    ► Serious mental illness is twice as common for adults living 200 percent below federal poverty level than it is for those living 200 percent above.

    ► Ninety percent of all children between the ages of 2 and 5 who have been reported to have mental illness live in poverty.

    ► African-Americans and Latinos receive mental health treatment at lower levels than whites, the report found.

    D.J. Jaffe, founder and executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., said he felt the report fell short because it did not focus on the homeless — whom he believes are the most seriously mentally ill in this city.

    "There are people screaming and yelling to get services from DOH and they can't," said Jaffe. "This administration keeps broadening what they will do with limited dollars and keeps ignoring the most seriously mentally ill."

    Among the services that need to be increased are help to families trying to get their loved ones intensive outpatient care, Jaffe said.

    The city also needs to expand Kendra's Law, which allows the state to order the mentally ill to receive outpatient mental health services, Jaffe said.  The law is named for Kendra Webdale who was killed after she was pushed onto the subway tracks by a homeless man with untreated schizophrenia in 1999.

    A study of the program found that the law reduced the most severe consequences of mental illness such as homelessness, arrest, hospitalization and incarceration.

    "The fixes are known. We don't need another white paper or another roadmap," Jaffe said.

    Marti Adams Baker, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said some of Jaffe's concerns have been addressed as part of an earlier announced effort called NYC Safe to deal with the mentally ill who are violent.

    The program adds $3.5 million for more mental health treatment in homeless shelters and adds seven new mobile mental health teams.

    "One major principle that will guide our strategy moving forward is prevention and early action — a principle that applies to and benefits each end of the mental health spectrum — from preventing illness to acting at earlier stages of serious illness," said Baker. "(T)here is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, and the roadmap will reflect that," she added.