Gibson and Union Community Health rally for mental health services

Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson advocates for mental health services for underserved communities to be at the forefront of the city`s COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Photos by Jason Cohen

This past year NYC saw small businesses close, kids learned remotely, thousands died and got sick and many lost jobs. All of this led to isolation, depression and poor mental health.

Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson realizes there is a stigma to discuss one’s mental health, but hopes that can soon be eradicated.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Gibson, Union Community Health Center and local nonprofits held a rally on May 13, where they called for mental health services for underserved communities to be at the forefront of the city’s COVID-19 recovery efforts.

“We may never know the full impact of COVID-19 on our collective mental health,” Gibson said.

Gibson noted that communities of color struggled with depression and mental health before the pandemic, but the need to help them now is even stronger.

She stressed that people should not be afraid to talk about their mental health.

The councilwoman touted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mental Health for All plan, which was announced in April. In this initiative, New York City will begin universal mental health support at city vaccination sites, create a community behavioral health academy and launch a new Mental Health for All website and public education campaign.

Looking to the future, Gibson would like to see social workers, guidance counselors and nurses in every public school.

“Health care is a fundamental human right,” Gibson exclaimed. “I worry about those who have diagnoses as much as I worry about those who don’t.”

Mildred Casiano, the director of behavioral health at Union Community Health Center, understands the dire need to address mental health. Casiano pointed out that single women have been drastically impacted by the pandemic.

Mildred Casiano, the director of behavioral health at Union Community Health Center

They may have lost jobs, had to work from home or rearrange their lives because of remote learning. Furthermore, due to the stay at home order, many were also isolated with their abusers.

“Before this pandemic the prevalence of mental health in adults was surging,” she said. “During these times it’s crucial that mental health services are strengthened.”

SAGE is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. David Vincent, chief program officer at SAGE, explained that LGBTQ seniors suffer twice as much from isolation and as many as 31 percent battle depression.

“The need for mental health services are even more vital, more essential especially now during COVID-19 due to the increased isolation brought on by the pandemic,” he said.

David Vincent, chief program officer at SAGE

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