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Special to the AmNews

Fifteen community-based organizations have been selected to receive grants to partner with mental health providers, train staff and improve access to mental health care in their communities through the Connection to Care program, as part of ThriveNYC.

Social service staff in every borough will receive training from local mental health providers to offer non-clinical mental health support to clients in three target populations: expectant parents and/or parents of children up to the age of 4, out of school and out of work young adults ages 16 to 24 and/or unemployed or underemployed adults ages 18 and over.

“Our study tells us that 1 in 5 New Yorkers experience a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year,” stated First Lady and Mayor’s Fund Board Chair Chirlane McCray. “Mental health challenges touch every family, in every neighborhood, in every borough. The good news is that mental health problems are treatable. But far too many people are unable to access the services that would help them get well.

“That’s why, in New York City, we are taking an innovative approach to expand access to mental health care. By partnering with community leaders and community organizations, we will be able to provide services where people already are—where they live, work, worship and study, and get those services from people they already trust. This approach is a game changer and one of the ways we will help New Yorkers on the path to wellness.”

Launched last July, Connections to Care is a $30 million public-private partnership outlined in ThriveNYC, and it is one of the largest public-private initiatives in the history of the Mayor’s Fund.

Connections to Care aims to expand access to mental health services by integrating evidence-based mental health support into social services programs serving low-income New Yorkers, especially New Yorkers in Northern Manhattan, including Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services.

It is also a program of the federal Social Innovation Fund of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, in collaboration with the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, selected the organizations.

The Mayor’s Fund also announced that the Ford Foundation has awarded a $2 million, three-year grant to the Connections to Care initiative. This funding will support an evaluation of the program by the RAND Corporation with the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.

“This is a public health crisis that has gone unattended for years,” stated McCray. “Hospitals, jails and shelters have become a revolving door. So we need to change the culture of mental health and change the way we deliver services.”

Over the next five years, the mental health providers are expected to train nearly 1,000 staff members at community-based organizations serving 8,600 New Yorkers per year. In total, Connections to Care is expected to serve more than 40,000 New Yorkers in five years.

All community-based organizations implementing Connections to Care will train non-mental health staff to provide non-clinical support for common mental health conditions. This support will include four approaches that research demonstrates non-clinical staff can effectively provide: screenings for common mental health and substance use disorders; motivational interviewing, or treatment that facilitates changes in behaviors that impact mental health; mental health first aid, which teaches the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance abuse; and psychoeducation, which provides individuals with a mental health condition and their families with information to understand and deal with the condition.

The mental health providers will deliver training in all the above to staff at the community-based organizations. Training will include workshops and classes according to industry guidelines, as well as ongoing support, coaching and quality assurance. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is also offering mental health first-aid training to community-based organizations and mental health providers.

Along with providing training, the mental health partners will also assist in the provision of direct care to clients in need of more intensive mental health care than can be provided at the community-based organization.

“Mental health first aid training will also be offered to New Yorkers for free,” stated McCray. “Our goal is to train 250,000 New Yorkers. I took the course and it is fantastic. It teaches you how to identify mental illness, how to recognize a wide range of signs and symptoms, how to deal with a crisis and also how to know when someone needs a higher level of care.

“It is so important to us that we have folks from all the different communities in NYC trained in this because one of the ways to change a culture is by people getting educated and becoming aware of what that really means. What does mental wellness really mean? What are the signs and symptoms of one that is not mentally well?”

All community-based organizations will launch their training within 90 days.

To learn more about mental health training and mental health first aid or to register for a course, visit nyc.gov/thrive and click on mental health first aid training.