Hunter Takes the Lead in NYC’s Mental Health Services Corps

When Mayor Bill DiBlasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray launched ThriveNYC, their pioneering initiative to address and support the mental health needs of New Yorkers, they made the announcement from the lobby of Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work, home of Hunter’s graduate social work programs and a nexus for the community. On Wednesday, September 28, the mayor and first lady celebrated Thrive’s workforce initiative and largest project, the Mental Health Service Corps, from their own home at Gracie Mansion – and welcomed a coterie of New York’s civic leaders, including Hunter president Jennifer J. Raab, to mark this important occasion.

The Mental Health Service Corps seeks to fill serious and long-neglected gaps in the mental health service provide supply for the city. Coordinated by a team at Hunter’s Brookdale campus, the project hires, trains, and supervises social workers, psychologists, and physicians/psychiatrists, giving early career service providers the tools to deliver and spread best practices in in the settings where they are most needed. Hunter’s Schools of Social Work, Nursing and Health Professions, as well as their Community health and Public Policy programs, are working together to create a pipeline for a new generation of mental health practitioners.

Led by Dr. Allie Sharma and an interdisciplinary team at the Hunter Brookdale campus, the program has been a massive logistical and clinical effort, mobilizing the efforts of administrators and clinicians from Hunter and several city agencies, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation. So far, the Corps has hired over a hundred service providers, including more than 50 graduates of the Silberman School of Social Work, and nearly all of them have found placements – like Alana Lopez, who is now working at the Callen Lorde Community Health Center, a group dedicated to providing excellent, targeted services to members of the LGBT community. Lopez, a 2014 graduate of Silberman, shared her Corps experiences at the Gracie Mansion event, part of a speaker line up that included President Raab and the First Lady McCray.

Fostering diversity – and focusing on underserved, vulnerable communities – is at the heart of the Corps’ mission, and that of the larger ThriveNYC mandate. Individual mental health is a community matter; the costs and consequences of untreated mental health problems, including the devastating difficulties of substance abuse, contribute to lost productivity, lost wages, premature and unintentional deaths. Bringing our darker feelings into the light can have a huge benefit, helping people find their way out of isolation and hopelessness, and into more engaged, activated lives. Said President Raab, “We are the perfect partner for the Mental Health Service Corps and pleased to work with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to make this program a success. Hunter College’s social workers and nurses are well educated and trained and an integral part of this much needed program. Good care happens only when primary care, behavioral health and social service providers work together as a team, along with patients, their families, and others in the diverse communities of our city.”

As the Mental Health Service Corps launches its efforts, bringing the skills and innovative insights of many Hunter graduates to a wider patient-audience, we can hope to see that kind of good care spread throughout the five boroughs, and for more New Yorkers to thrive.