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The advertisements on public transportation don’t usually warrant a second glance, let alone a conversation. But on the New York subway last week, a new series of banners went up, asking people to start talking. “Depression doesn’t define me,” one reads. Another one: “Addiction can affect anyone and is treatable.” At the bottom of all of them is this line: “Let’s talk openly about mental health issues. Together we can heal.”
These notices come not from a special-interest group or a medical institution, but from the City of New York. ThriveNYC, spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray, is a comprehensive program intended to improve access to mental health care across the city and break down barriers to treatment, including longstanding cultural stigma. ThriveNYC, which officially launched last November, has an $850 million budget and will work with 20 city agencies on 54 initiatives. The subway banners are part of one of them, an awareness campaign called “Today I Thrive,” which brings long-silenced mental health issues out into the open.
The ThriveNYC campaign coincides with a growing worldwide recognition that mental health concerns must be addressed. One in four people will be affected by mental health concerns in their lifetime; at a conference held in Washington, D.C. from April 13-14 of this year, the World Bank and World Health Organization brought together hundreds of doctors, aid groups, and government organizations in an effort to move mental health to the forefront of the global agenda. Speaking to NPR, Dr. Shekhar Saxena, who oversees WHO’s mental health and substance abuse sectors, said that a failure to treat just depression and anxiety costs the world $1 trillion per year. “We believe that all countries need to pay more attention to mental health,” he said.
In metropolitan areas like like Houston, the largest provider of mental health care recently has been the Harris County Jail. Probably not the optimal provider.