Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr.’s $2 million grant partnership with virtual therapy platform BetterHelp has made free mental health counseling available to Queens residents. This program, specially geared toward serving the Queens community, is over and above other New York City free mental health resources available to all New York City residents. According to Indian-American mental health experts, this will be of considerable help also to the large population of South Asian origin living in the borough.
The grant is further granted to 10 different Queens community-based organizations (CBO) who each has received $175,000 worth of services to make available across their networks, with the remaining $250,000 being distributed to constituents at the discretion of the Queens Borough President’s Office. This program is designed to provide 3 free therapy sessions to about 8,000 individuals.
There has been a noted rise in reporting of mental health issues after the onset of the pandemic. Mental health issues existed before that. But they were at more manageable level. Unpredictability and loss of life has led to extreme stress in many. BetterHelp and TalkSpace, online therapy providers have seen an increase of 60 percent downloads of their apps in 4 months between January and April 2021, according to statistics.
In an exclusive interview with News India Times, Reshma Shah, New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker, said Richards’ grant will be very helpful. “It is good that the grant has gone out to CBOs who are really working at the grassroots level in the community,” she said. These are organizations where people may go for other help, and during intake, someone there may realize the individual needs more help than just simple services, and organize a mental health screening, she said. “This grant will enable mental health screenings to happen,” Shah added.
Therapy is expensive to continue for long. People in real need have not been able to afford it. Students who have limited health insurance may need help as they are facing many mental health issues including peer pressure, the need to belong and excelling in studies. The grant will make therapy affordable for them as well as the others, Shah said.
The 10 CBOs which have received this grant are Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities in Corona, Glow Community Center in Flushing, Jackson Heights Bangladeshi Business Association in Jackson Heights, LIFE Camp, Inc. in Jamaica, Phoenix Houses in Long Island City, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation in Far Rockaway, Sunnyside Community Services in Sunnyside, United Federation of Teachers, Urban Resource Institute, and Urban Upbound in Long Island City. Shah has worked with more than 3 of these organizations, she said.
Changing Attitude To Mental Health
“Before the pandemic, people sought help only when they reached a crisis-level,” Shah said. She said now people seek help knowing well that therapy does not have to be a last minute rescue attempt or a lifelong process. “They know it can be short term and solution focused. They know it is like when you hurt your shoulder and go to get it,” she said.
Shah herself came to notice the shift in the attitude towards mental health among the South Asian community only when she conducted mental health workshops in the community. “There is more open talk now about mental health,” Shah said. “Now people are willing to come out for services,” Shah said.
Mental Health awareness workshops have been greatly instrumental in changing the attitude among the South Asian community, according to Shah. Most of these workshops are attended by 50 or 60 participants. Shah said she noticed more interaction in the workshops. “They were not shy about sharing their story or examples of themselves or family members,” Shah said. Many participants admit anxiety, negativity, and lack of sleep and ask for help in those areas. “I was surprised at how the South Asian community has opened up about mental health. Earlier they used to say mental health issues were in someone else’s homes, not theirs,” Shah said.
Shah, whose areas of expertise are psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & Workshops, has just completed conducting a few mental health awareness workshops for India Home, a CBO, in Queens. These workshops aimed at bringing mental health awareness among the community. “I try to weave in different ways and techniques to manage stress and then point out the list of available resources,” Shah said. The workshops covered common mental health issues such as post partum depression, stress management, anxiety management, depression and smoking cessation.
Psychological Therapy does not remain a taboo any more with the South Asians. Nor is it a scare or interference. With a general awareness of mental health issues, people now tend to do more self tests, ask more questions, and realize themselves the need for therapy. “The screening tools I use are common screening tools which are basically self report questionnaires which any person can fill out and figure out if, at the end, the score is irregular and to go for counseling,” Shah said.
More New York City Mental Health Resources
Shah shared two other New York City mental health resources available to anyone anywhere in the city, free of cost and available 24/7. NYC Well mental services are educational and free. More information is available at their website (https://nycwell.cityofnewyork.us/en/). Mobile crisis teams and services offered by mental health professionals during a mental health crisis, are provided by Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health. More information about their services, which are also free and available 24/7 is available at their website (https://mentalhealthforall.nyc.gov/services/mobile-crisis-teams).
What will be the outcome of this awareness? What will change? “The change I see is that people are talking about mental health issues,” Shah said. The impact of this increased awareness will be in the hospitals, according to Shah. “In a few years, we will see less and less people landing in hospitals due to mental health issues,” Shah said. “That is what we want. When something has just started and you seek a solution, the prognosis is better than when you wait long before seeking help. The issues can be taken care at an earlier stage,” Shah said.