Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray Announce New Collaboration to Support Community Mental Health Needs and Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico

October 7, 2017

NYC Well will collaborate with the national Disaster Distress Helpline to strengthen mental health outreach

NEW YORK–Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray today announced a collaboration between NYC Well, the City’s free, confidential mental health support helpline, and the Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH), a national crisis counseling and emotional support service funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to more fully support mental health outreach in New York City, as well as Puerto Rico. The collaboration between NYC Well and DDH will strengthen pathways for referral and counseling services to effectively manage the heavily-anticipated volume of calls locally and in Puerto Rico as telephone lines are restored and individuals seek help. This includes connecting natives of Puerto Rico to NYC Well as they arrive in the City, and fielding calls from concerned family members or friends outside of the City to DDH when appropriate.

NYC Well call center staff stands ready to respond to community mental health needs, including services for Puerto Ricans experiencing the trauma of evacuating their home and local volunteers returning to New York City after supporting hurricane relief efforts. As a result, NYC Well will bolster its Spanish-speaking and bilingual call center staff to ensure that counselors are effectively trained and have competence in Psychological First Aid and Disaster Counseling. Both NYC Well and DDH are administered by the Mental Health Association of New York City (MHA-NYC).

"Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria, the vast majority of Puerto Rico lacks power and most families are without running water. Whether you're the latest relative to arrive in NYC, or the compassionate volunteer in PR assisting families in need, know that counseling and referral services are available. I thank First Lady McCray for leading this effort, and all of the dedicated mental health staff at NYC Well and the Disaster Distress Helpline for their time, expertise and emotional support during these trying times," said Mayor Bill de Blasio

"Our brothers and sisters of Puerto Rico have already endured a great deal in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Grappling with sudden loss, takes an unmeasurable toll on a people and can have lasting effects. I am proud that ThriveNYC workers and our NYC Well program will partner with the nation's trusted counseling service, the Disaster Distress Helpline, to provide mental health first aid to the residents of Puerto Rico, the volunteers as well as New Yorkers here in the City," said First Lady Chirlane McCray.

"When disaster strikes, people react with increased anxiety, worry and anger. With community and family support, most of us bounce back. Some may need extra assistance to cope with unfolding events and uncertainties," said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at SAMHSA. "People seeking emotional help in the aftermath of a disaster anywhere in the United States can call the national Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 and begin the process of recovery."

“New Yorkers and Puerto Ricans are bound by history, by heritage, and by love. In Hurricane Maria’s disastrous wake, we want to ensure that crisis counseling and referral services are available for all individuals impacted by this unprecedented tragedy," said Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. “In addition to free and confidential mental health help, the partnership with the Disaster Distress Helpline will provide more targeted support for a range of survivors’ most immediate needs. I am proud to stand up for New York values alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray where they matter most.”

The announcement was made at an event today at the FDNY EMS Station 26 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx as part of the City’s ongoing donation efforts to support individuals affected by Hurricane Maria.

City emergency services personnel that have been deployed to Puerto Rico will provide technical support on the ground to help ensure that electricity is restored on the island and raise awareness about the mental health support that DDH is providing to the Puerto Rican community. As of today, 158 City workers are in Puerto Rico.

“NYC Well is available whenever, and wherever, New Yorkers need it,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “I am proud how well they are able to adapt to new and emerging situations that may cause emotional distress, such as the devastation of Hurricane Maria.”

“We are pleased to provide mental health support for individuals affected by disaster both in Puerto Rico and here in New York City,” said Kimberly Williams, President and CEO of MHA-NYC. “Through the Disaster Distress Helpline and NYC Well, we can ensure that those affected by Hurricane Maria, as well as other natural and human-caused disasters, can get the resources and support that they need when they need it most.”

"We are all one and it is our duty and privilege to come together to help each other in a time of need," said the Black Eyed Peas. "We are proud to be of service and do anything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico."

It is natural to experience anxiety, anger, fear and countless other emotions after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster. Here are some coping mechanisms: 

  • Traumatic events can be stressful. Recover at your own pace:
    Experiencing a traumatic event can be very overwhelming. Stress caused by the event may affect how one feels, thinks and acts, but the effects should lessen with time. Accept those feelings and give oneself time to recover. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to react because everyone experiences and deals with stress differently. Be patient with oneself and those around you.
  •  Know when to seek help:
    Reach out to others and ask for help and support if you feel stuck or overwhelmed. Speak with someone you trust. You may find that others are having a similar experience and you can begin to explore how best to support each other.
  • Offer support and comfort to children:
    Although parents may have their concerns, it important to help children remain calm. This will reassure them and help them feel safe. Children may present as confused, afraid, and they may have many questions. Don’t ignore their worries. Answer their questions and explain the facts in a way that they can understand. Let them express their feelings, and reassure them that it is okay to have such feelings. Spend extra time with them and limit their exposure to distressing conversations. If at all possible, try to get back to a familiar routine or start anew given the situation.

About the City’s Hurricane Maria Relief Efforts

 The City is collecting monetary donations through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. These funds will be distributed to organizations working to support the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean residents who have been impacted by this storm. City workers now have the option to make a donation directly from their paychecks to Hurricane Maria relief efforts. 

The City is also collecting donations of critically needed items through October 31 at 24 firehouses and EMS stations, and every NYPD precinct, transit agency and police service area across the five boroughs. Only donations of batteries, diapers, feminine hygiene products, first aid supplies and baby food will be accepted at these drop-off sites. Donations will be accepted during the hours of 7 AM through 9 PM. 

As of October 5, 265 pallets of donated items have been collected and are being packaged for shipment at the New York City Emergency Management warehouse in Brooklyn. Items collected include approximately 12,800 cases of diapers; 23,800 cases of feminine hygiene products; 1,200 first aid kits; 3,600 cases of baby food and 8,800 packs of batteries. Thousands of these items have already arrived in Puerto Rico.

About NYC Well

New Yorkers seeking support or treatment for mental health or substance use issues for themselves or their loved ones can contact NYC Well by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL, texting “WELL” to 65173 or going to nyc.gov/nycwell. Free, confidential support is available at any hour of the day in over 200 languages.

About the Disaster Distress Helpline

Individuals can call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. DDH provides 24/7, year-round, confidential crisis counseling to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters in the U.S. and its territories. Helpline staff members provide psychological first aid, supportive counseling, information on common stress reactions and healthy coping, and referrals to local disaster-related resources for follow-up care and support. DDH also offers online tools, including a free Disaster Behavioral Health Response Mobile App.

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