By Victoria Falk
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a great time to encourage New Yorkers to get the help that they need. Despite the stigma in communities of color around receiving mental health services, getting help is still the better option than trying it alone. Some people view seeking help as a sign of weakness. However, quite the contrary, it is a sign of strength when someone is aware of their circumstances enough to know they need help and takes steps towards getting that help.
How do you know that you need help? “During this pandemic, people have been separated from family and experiencing intense amounts of stress. It’s important for New Yorkers to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression,” stated Dr. Torian Easterling during a community conversation on mental health. Someone may be experiencing one or more signs over a prolonged period. The following list is not all-inclusive.
However, it is a start to aid in the discussion of possible service needs. If any of these signs persist, you may need to seek mental health services:
- Lack of interest in activities that used to bring you joy
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Increased desire and use of drugs and alcohol
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness
- Constant worry and anxiety over issues you cannot change
New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, and Dr. Torian Easterling have teamed up to bring the message about the importance and availability of free mental health services for all New Yorkers. During recent public forums with community media, McCray stated, “We need your help to get the word out.” When Caribbean American Weekly asked about the availability of services for immigrant populations, Ms. McCray answered, “These services are indeed for all New Yorkers, no matter their immigration status.
We do not want people from immigrant communities to be afraid to get the help they need. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable to ask for help. Services are free, and you will not be asked for your ID.,” assured McCray. “During this pandemic, a record number of people have been suffering from anxiety and depression, “stated First Lady McCray, “…and we want New Yorkers to get the help they need.” “There are high rates of relapse for people suffering from alcohol and drug issues, and people who never reported using drugs and alcohol before are now relying heavily on drugs and alcohol,” added Dr. Easterling.
Among those suffering during this pandemic, the city’s first responders, essential workers, and frontline medical workers were the doctors and nurses.
Mental health reports stated that “…if there is a bad outcome, they’re often blaming themselves, which further compounds their risk of depression and suicide.” There have even been reports of young children taking their lives. Mayor Bill de Blasio regrettably reported to the media, “there have been several deaths by suicides in recent weeks among New York City public school students…pointing to the pandemic for causing isolation and leading to the tragedies.” Suicide rates across the board have reportedly increased during the pandemic.
According to the New York City Health Department’s Health Opinion Poll, “health care workers, adults with children in the household, adults afraid of interpersonal violence due to actions or threats of a current or former partner and adults who have a family member with a chronic health condition are more likely to experience adverse mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Thus, it is imperative to do as New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, and Dr. Torian Easterling requested of community media and get the word out to all New Yorkers about free mental health services for all New Yorkers. “We are doing more for mental health. There will be mental health check-ins for adults and universal screening for all students returning to school in the fall.”
We have been working with faith-based leaders and community-based organizations to bring mental health services into communities where there has been a stigma around receiving mental health services, to help people feel more confident in them,” added McCray.
“It’s tough to take that first step, but the first step is most important. Take the first step,” McCray urges New Yorkers regarding seeking mental health services. “Staff at vaccination sites are trained to talk to people to find out how they are doing and connect them to support,” added Dr. Easterling. “Services are free and confidential,” Dr. Easterling reassures New Yorkers.
If you or someone you know needs support or mental health services, dial 1-888-NYC-WELL for crisis intervention counseling. Services are provided in over 200 languages.