MANHATTAN — New York City's first lady Chirlane McCray pushed for a new coalition of city leaders nationwide who are committed to reforming mental health services at a conference Tuesday.
"The mental health crisis is too big for any one city to overcome on its own," McCray said, addressing politicians, public health advocates and mental health professionals from around the country at the "Cities Thrive" inaugural conference held at Fordham Law School.
The city's first lady wants the group's members to pledge to build its ranks by bringing in more than 300 cities by 2018. She also called for drawing media and public attention to the issue of mental health, lobbying members of Congress for mental health system reforms, and launching at least one new local initiative a year.
The national network will offers its participants support and inspiration, she said.
"When you join the coalition, you aren't speaking just on behalf of your city, you're speaking on behalf of a movement and that means your message is much more likely to be heard."
Cities Thrive builds on the founding principles of ThriveNYC, McCray’s initiative to increase mental health accessibility for New Yorkers and decrease stigma surrounding mental illness. Programs under the ThriveNYC umbrella include a new digital access center to help New Yorkers navigate available mental health services, screenings for postpartum depression in city hospitals, and a division of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice connecting individuals with mental health diagnoses and propensity toward violence with proper services.
As of Tuesday morning, 26 cities including Orlando, Philadelphia and Boston had officially committed to the national coalition, a city official said.
"We don't yet know exactly what the next president and the next Congress are thinking when it comes to mental health, which makes this coalition all that more vital," said McCray a week after the country voted in President-elect Donald Trump with a Republican-held U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The group's first mission, McCray said, is to push for Congress to pass a landmark mental health bill, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, that would increase the availability of psychiatric hospital beds, establish a new position within the federal Department of Health and Human Services for the oversight of mental health and substance abuse services, and expand treatment for young mental health patients, among other provisions.
The bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July, awaits a vote in the Senate.