ThriveNYC: Reimagining a Mental Health Care System for Everyone

By Susan Herman, Senior Advisor to the Mayor, Office of ThriveNYC

In 2015, First Lady Chirlane McCray decided to embrace a big challenge: to change New York City’s entire approach to mental health. Working with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, she set out to identify key ways New York City could address many of the problems she was hearing about across the City — too much stigma associated with mental illness, help is hard to find, and there are enormous gaps in services to address mental health problems. She set out an ambitious agenda, with clear and compelling goals: overcoming the stigma of mental illness so New Yorkers both recognize problems and seek help to address them; increasing wellness and resilience among New Yorkers; and ensuring mental health care can be found where people live, work, and learn. Since then, ThriveNYC has sought to face mental illness and address it as a city, rather than simply putting a Band-Aid over its symptoms.

First Lady Chirlane McCray visits a Trauma Smart location at Bronx Community College where Pre-K students participate in yoga as a part of the Thrive NYC Day of Action on Thursday, November 29, 2018. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Just over three years later, change is starting to take hold. Thrive has dismantled some of the barriers that prevent people from getting help. To date — even without counting all the callers to NYC Well or students now served in schools — ThriveNYC has served over three quarters of a million people through discrete interventions, and touched the lives of countless more. We have published regular reports, have a chapter in the Mayor’s Management Report and are held to the same budget standards and oversight as other Mayoral Offices and initiatives. To further ensure proper oversight and evaluation of this work, we are collaborating with experts at City agencies and academic institutions to continue to assess the progress of these initiatives. It is essential that there are tools in place to measure the short, medium, and long term impact of our work. We have been tracking performance since the beginning, and as the programs mature, we’ll continue modifying these metrics to ensure we measure progress and outcomes appropriately, and make adjustments to programs as needed.

Our budget outlines programs that have benefitted from Thrive, and shows the ramp-up over the last four years. The success of our programs stems from close collaboration between City agencies and over two hundred non-profit partners. Similar to other Mayoral initiatives, the budget lives within agencies, who directly oversee these programs. The Office of Thrive provides oversight and support to programs and agencies to ensure they’re embedded within our citywide approach to mental health, that they build on other city-wide initiatives, and ensure sustainability.

In the last three years, Thrive has sown the seeds for a new citywide approach to mental health and long-lasting change. But radically re-imagining mental health is a job for everyone: every City agency, every service provider, every community-based organization, every school, and every family. In the years ahead, we must work together to acknowledge the importance of our individual and collective well-being. Thrive has initiated a seismic shift in how we view mental health. This is our chance to build the culture and infrastructure we need to support healthy communities.

Live from City Hall, in the greatest city on earth. @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio

Live from City Hall, in the greatest city on earth. @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio