Chirlane McCray (212463)
Credit: Contributed

First Lady Chirlane McCray and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett today announced the completion of 15 wellness spaces at public high schools citywide, reaching nearly 10,000 students. As part of the Mental Health by Design, or MHxD, initiative, funded through ThriveNYC, the schools received $10,000 in services to create spaces that support mental well-being, increase physical activity and promote social cohesion. The MHxD selection committee prioritized applications from schools that illustrated high need and a dedication to improving health equity. Projects included murals, gardens, meditation or mindfulness rooms, an outdoor classroom, an audio booth, an indoor hydroponic garden and a restorative justice space. MHxD also partnered with the design agency Hyperakt to hold a three-week Student Development Lab, where students designed posters to promote their school’s project. The grant funding included support from an architectural consultant, and the projects were a collaboration between students, faculty and the architects. The award was administered by the Fund for Public Health in New York City in partnership with the Health Department. MHxD is an extension of Active Design in Schools, an award program executed by the Health Department that supports infrastructure enhancements in schools to promote physical activity and healthy living.

“Take a seat and pay attention to your breath,” said McCray, who leads the city’s mental health and substance misuse efforts. “Should your attention wander, try to refocus. … Those are words thousands of public school students in NYC may hear as they learn to connect their emotions to the way their bodies are feeling. I am excited about this collaboration between Mental Health by Design and ThriveNYC that will introduce meditation and other wellness tools to the classroom. Our young people will learn new skills while learning the importance of mental wellness.”

“Mental Health by Design promotes healthy physical environments in schools by funding built environment projects like gardens, art and music rooms and meditation rooms,” said Bassett. “This initiative invests in high-poverty neighborhood schools to help students pursue mindfulness, increase physical activity, social inclusion and mental health support. This is just another way the Health Department is making mental health resources more accessible to New Yorkers.”

“Providing schools with tools to develop and enhance our students’ mental well-being and social emotional learning is essential to creating healthy young adults,” said Schools Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose. “We will continue to work to improve the opportunities students have to engage and learn in a nurturing environment, and I thank First Lady McCray and the Department of Health for their partnership on this innovative approach.”

“We are excited for the launch of the Mental Health by Design initiative,” said Sara Gardner, executive director of the Fund for Public Health in New York City. “This project represents a unique opportunity to implement holistic wellness activities at public high schools to help young students learn preventive self-care approaches and develop emotional fitness.”

“We are very excited to be launching our Mindfulness Center at Brooklyn College Academy,” said Brooklyn College Academy Principal Nicholas Mazzarella. “The center will encourage our students to be more aware of their health and mental wellness as they go through their educational journey.”

To encourage student-led promotion of the new spaces, 30 students (two from each school) participated in the MHxD Student Development Lab, a three-week interactive and collaborative effort that taught participants about the fundamentals of storytelling, design and communications for social impact. Developed and led by Hyperakt, a social impact design agency, the lab taught students the problem-solving, communication and creative skills needed to promote mental health in their communities. Students developed poster campaigns and outreach strategies to increase mental health awareness and promote their school’s new MHxD space.

“Through Mental Health by Design, some of New York’s top young designers collaborated with city high schools to design and build beautiful spaces where students can feel safe and relaxed,” said architectural consultant Karen Kubey. “MHxD designers helped bring the schools’ visions to life, creating spaces to support mental health programming like meditation and yoga. MHxD shows how even modest improvements to our built environment can have positive impacts on our mental health and on health equity.”