Health Department Expands Mental Health First Aid; Launches "Choose the Best Words" Awareness Campaign

Nearly 50,000 New Yorkers trained in Mental Health First Aid since 2015

New Yorkers can sign up for a free Mental Health First Aid class at nyc.gov/mhfa

January 30, 2018 — As part of ThriveNYC, and after a successful introduction, the Health Department today announced an additional $5 million annual investment through 2020 to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program for 39 full-time trainers, 19 outreach coordinators, training materials and public awareness campaigns. Nearly 50,000 New Yorkers have participated in this program since its launch in December 2015, including nearly 20,000 of the City’s frontline staff who interact with the public. MHFA offers a free, one-day training on the skills needed to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, psychosis, suicidal behavior, overdose and withdrawal. As part of the new funding, the Health Department launched the “Choose the Best Words” campaign in English and Spanish. The ads (PDF) are placed on the subway, bus shelters, the Staten Island Ferry, neighborhood locations and newspapers, and videos are running on social media. To learn more about Mental Health First Aid, go to nyc.gov/mhfa or click here.

“Every day, there are New Yorkers struggling with anxiety, depression and other challenges, but they may not be able to turn to their friends, loved ones, neighbors or coworkers for help. Most people will be supportive if they know someone they care about is hurting. That is why it’s essential for all of us to understand the signs of emotional distress and know how to respond,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who spearheads ThriveNYC. “The Mental Health First Aid course is teaching New Yorkers all across the city new skills, which will help shatter the stigma around mental illness and transform lives. The more New Yorkers who have this knowledge, the healthier our families and City will be.”

“Mental illness has long been the subject of hushed tones, and that can prevent people from reaching out,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Mental Health First Aid not only reduces stigma about mental health issues, but it gives New Yorkers the tools necessary to engage and support people who might need help. This expansion will allow us to offer Mental Health First Aid training across the city, in more languages, and during schedules that work for all New Yorkers. The public awareness campaign complements this effort and helps people choose the best words to support someone in need.”

Mental Health First Aid

The “Choose the Best Words” campaign encourages people to talk to their friends, family members or co-workers and learn to support those who need help. Data show that one in five New Yorkers is likely to experience a mental health disorder in any given year. At any given time, over half a million adult New Yorkers are estimated to have depression, yet less than 40 percent report receiving care for it. Stigma around mental health often discourages people from seeking the treatment they need.

Mental Health First Aid training is offered six days a week in all five boroughs. Courses are offered in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Haitian Creole, and French. Courses are tailored to people who regularly interact with youth ages 12 to 18, older adults, or veterans and people who work in higher education and public safety. The adult MHFA course teaches participants a five-step action plan to help someone 18 years or older who is displaying signs of mental illness or emotional crisis. New Yorkers interested in taking a free MHFA class can sign up at nyc.gov/mhfa.

In December, as part of growing ThriveNYC participation, a coalition of historically Black, women-led organizations pledged to train 10,000 African-Americans in Mental Health First Aid under the Sisters Thrive initiative.

About ThriveNYC
ThriveNYC is an unprecedented strategy and set of 54 initiatives by the City to approach mental health as a comprehensive public health challenge involving many City agencies. ThriveNYC aims to change the conversation and stigma surrounding mental illness and provide greater access to mental health care. For more information on ThriveNYC, visit nyc.gov/thrivenyc.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Stephanie Buhle: (347) 396-4177,
PressOffice@health.nyc.gov