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Chirlane McCray Talks Mental Health With Parents During P.S. 188 Visit

 First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray visited P.S. 188 Thursday March 10, 2016 to discuss mental health.
First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray visited P.S. 188 Thursday March 10, 2016 to discuss mental health.
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DNAinfo/William Mathis

EAST VILLAGE — First Lady Chirlane McCray met with parents at P.S. 188 Thursday afternoon to talk about her mental health initiative, Thrive NYC.

“I’m here to talk about one of biggest barriers to getting a good education” McCray said. “An issue that has touched every single of of us in this room and that is mental health.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Thrive NYC initiative last November to address mental health issues in the city. One in five New Yorkers suffers from a mental health problem, according to a report released by the New York Department of Health.

On Thursday, McCray wanted to connect with parents personally to address issues that prevent them and their children from accessing mental health care. One of the aspects of the Thrive initiative is to change the culture around mental health so that New Yorkers will talk openly about it. 

McCray struck a personal note to get that conversation started. 

“The numbers don’t tell the whole story, there are real families behind these numbers,” McCray told the audience before telling the story of her daughter, Chiara, who struggled with anxiety, addiction and depression. “I had no idea how serious what she was going through was.”

With better information, McCray hoped that parents would have a better chance of helping their own children.

But even with more help available, some parents expressed fear that their children would be stigmatized or bullied for their mental health issues.

“The problem I foresee with other parents with kids who have mental health issues don’t want to be placed under that umbrella,” said parent Larissa Smart. “They’re afraid to come because they’re going to be labeled.”

McCray acknowledged that stigmatization is an issue, but that it can change with time, education and by treating mental health the same as physical health.

Some parents said they had already seen the benefits of mental health access for their students. The school, through funding from the Jewish Board, has free counseling available to students.

India Townes, 35, is the mother of two students at P.S. 188. She said her 11-year-old son used to suffer from serious anger issues, but that he has improved greatly with the help of a school counselor.

"When he was younger I didn't know what I was gonna do," Townes said. "Now he's doing so much better and it's definitely due to the help."