Health Department’s Office Of Faith Based Initiatives To Host First Mental Health First Aid Training Exclusively For Spanish–Speaking Faith Leaders

The training seeks to prepare non-native English speaking faith leaders to respond to mental health crises in their neighborhoods
September 29, 2016 – Today the Health Department’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives convened its first Mental Health First Aid Training exclusive to Spanish-speaking faith leaders conducted entirely in Spanish. Twenty Spanish-speaking faith leaders from 17 organizations around the city participated in the training held at the Health Department’s headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. Participants included pastors, elders, deacons, health ministry directors and members of houses of worship from different denominations.
Today’s Mental Health First Aid course is the first training conducted exclusively for Spanish-speaking faith leaders from multiple denominations and the fourth training conducted entirely in Spanish since the launch of ThriveNYC. This training is part of ThriveNYC’s goal of preparing more community leaders to respond to mental health needs in their neighborhoods and making resources available where people live, work, worship and learn. In May, ThriveNYC convened the first-ever citywide Mental Health Weekend of Faith engaging 1,000 houses of worship to raise awareness about mental health among faith communities in the city. The Health Department’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives has conducted more than 10 Mental Health First Aid Training sessions this year, training more than 234 people of different denominations.  

“Our faith leaders are often the first to learn of distress in a household. If a mother worries about the way her daughter’s behavior has changed or a husband is concerned about his wife’s drinking, counsel from a faith leader is often the first stop. Our clergy members are front line workers in the effort to address behavioral challenges.” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who spearheads ThriveNYC, the city’s $850 million plan to prevent and treat mental illnesses and substance misuse. “No one knows the needs of their communities better than faith leaders. That’s why we’re training as many clergy members as possible in mental health first aid, so they can recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and addiction, and know what to do. With the right tools, they can keep New Yorkers from suffering needlessly and make sure they get appropriate treatment.”

“Faith based leaders play an important role in supporting the mental health of individuals in their congregations and communities,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “It is a priority for the Health Department to provide the tools necessary to ensure more equitable health outcomes for all New Yorkers. We hope that this training will help support clergy in their efforts to raise awareness about mental health in Spanish-speaking communities.”

“A thread running through ThriveNYC and more community facing approaches to improving mental health, is the need to bring more people into feeling they can comfortably troubleshoot and talk about these issues," said Executive Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Gary Belkin. "Clergy all across the city in particular have stepped forward to be first in line among those people.  We will continue to bring forward additional multilingual materials to amplify clergy’s potential reach.”

The training for Spanish-speaking faith leaders seeks to build the skills of clergy to better respond to signs of mental distress in their communities. The curriculum for the Mental Health First Aid Training includes:
  • The use of role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to evaluate a mental health crisis, choose interventions and provide initial help.
  • Provides help in finding resources to better connect persons to professional, peer, social, and self-help care.
  • Teaches about the risk factors and warning signs of specific mental health illnesses.
  • Participants learn the signs and symptoms of the most common mental health problems, where and when to get help and support, and types of help shown to be effective.
“With the ThriveNYC initiative, this Administration is leading the way in bringing mental health issues out of the shadows and into the light,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the New York City Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services. “Mental health first aid training for faith leaders is a wise and innovative idea, and I am pleased that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is providing this training in Spanish, as well as English.  We need to have our community leaders trained to respond to mental health crises on the ground in their neighborhoods, and today’s training of Spanish-speaking faith leaders is a step in the right direction.”

“ThriveNYC has helped to dispel commonly held myths and stigma associated with mental illness.  It places the emphasis on helping the individual and this is what Mental Health First Aid is about,” said Revered Dr. Bruce C. Rivera, Chairman of the Bronx Multi Faith Advisory Group and Executive Pastor of Christ Church UCC. “As the leader of the Bronx Interfaith Advisory Group, we are committed to supporting this initiative. We will continue to mobilize members of the faith community to be trained in Mental Health First Aid Training as a means to address the many barriers to intervention and information."  
“By organizing this training, the Health Department has once again shown how important it is for all non-English speaking New Yorkers to be equipped with the knowledge to address issues of mental health that our communities face,” said Pastor Domingo Vasquez, Friendly Hand Ministries.
About the Center for Health Equity’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives
The Health Department’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the Center for Health Equity (CHE) leads the agency’s effort to incorporate faith-based organizations into its programming. It creates sustainable partnerships with the faith community and coordinates the Health Department’s outreach to these partners to address health inequities in New York City. The Office of Faith Based Initiatives builds partnerships with the faith community through borough-specific Interfaith Advisory Groups citywide. These groups provide input in planning and development by engaging faith leaders as partners to advocate for public health policies and programs designed to address health inequities at the community level.

About the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity
Founded in 2014, the Health Department’s Center for Health Equity amplifies the agency’s work to eliminate health disparities and improve health outcomes in neighborhoods with disproportionately high rates of chronic disease and premature death. The division takes a number of approaches to invest in key neighborhoods, eliminate the social barriers to good health and advance health equity throughout New York City. The Neighborhood Health Action Centers, opening soon, will better link residents with local primary care and community services. The Action Centers will also provide space for community-based organizations and Health Department staff to work together to advance neighborhood health. For more information, visit



Christopher Miller/Carolina Rodríguez, 347-396-4177