Dear Fellow New Yorkers,

The Office of Mental Health is pleased to join with
individuals and organizations across New York State, the United States, and
the world as we recognize May as Mental Health Month.

One in five New York residents will experience a mental illness in their
lifetime, yet many of our family members, friends, and neighbors do not
seek treatment. The question is why and the answer all too often is the
stigma and fear of discrimination for living with a mental illness. Many
will suffer for years untreated, being unable to lead full and productive
lives. We must tear down the terrible wall of stigma and eliminate any
shame associated with mental illness.

Mental health and physical health must be one and the same, and equally
important. If we teach our children in our schools how to be physically
healthy, then we need to teach our children in our schools about being
mentally healthy. When we see our doctor for our physical health, we fill
out questionnaires in their office and ask without fear or shame questions
about our physical health. We need the same freedom of questions and
discussion for our mental health. Just as we talk to our friends and
neighbors about our physical pains, our trips to emergency rooms or our
surgeries, we should be able to talk about our mental pain, about how we
have sought medication or therapy for it, and how we are getting ourselves
well. When that conversation with friends, in school, and in the doctor’s
office is as easy for mental health as for our physical health, we know
that we are winning the battle against stigma.

Across New York State, integrated physical and mental health care is
becoming a reality, supported by numerous state initiatives to educate and
finance screening and treatment for mental health problems in a primary
care physician’s office. Soon, when you visit with your doctor, you will be
asked simple questions about how you feel, such as do you have little
interest or pleasure in things, are you feeling down, depressed or
hopeless? These questions help your doctor screen for depression and other
questions will alert your doctor to problems with anxiety or substance use.

With new programs such as Healthy Steps, we are helping pediatric
practices screen children from birth to age five for behavioral concerns and
helping families find the help they need, just as we screen that your child
is growing as he or she should and meets usual developmental milestones.
Through innovative services such as Project TEACH, we are linking child
psychiatrists with primary care doctors throughout the state to provide
real time consultation services and videoconference, enabling families to
work with their pediatricians on issues of mental health for their
children. We have expanded OnTrackNY throughout the state, more than
quadrupling the capacity of our nationally recognized program that helps
young adults experiencing their first episode of psychosis stay in school,
keep their job, strengthen their family and social relationships and avoid
disruptive hospitalizations.

We are developing new community-based and mobile mental health services
aimed at increasing access, quality, and availability of mental health services
where they matter most, close to home. We have created nearly 40,000
supportive housing units and expanded employment assistance for individuals
with mental illness, as they provide the stability needed to build healthy and
happy lives. Under Medicaid redesign, we are pursuing a seamless system of
mental health care, primary care, and care for substance use disorders, with
a goal of better population health for all New Yorkers. Through national and
state parity laws, insurers are now required to cover mental and physical
illness equally!

These experiences and services are normalizing mental health beginning at
birth, continuing throughout life, and in all facets of our communities,
one doctor visit, one counseling session, one education session, one
conversation at a time. We all need to join the battle against stigma and
make mental health a normal and vibrant part of our lives!

As always, if you or someone you know needs help finding mental health
services in New York State, please do not hesitate to contact the
Office of Mental Health directly at 800-597-8481 or via the OMH Website.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ann Marie T. Sullivan
Commissioner
New York State Office of Mental Health

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