NYC Health + Hospitals Observes National Mental Health Awareness Month
May 12, 2021
In recognition of National Mental Health Awareness Month, NYC Health + Hospitals is hosting a series of activities system-wide to encourage mental wellness among its employees. The public health system kicked-off the month by hosting a panel discussion, “Breaking Through Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace,” with frontline nurses from the system, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, behavioral health experts, and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) NYC Metro Executive Director Matt Kudish as panelists. Throughout the month of May, NYC Health + Hospitals will also host a number of events in facilities across the system to encourage sharing among staff members of their experience with mental health support and to express themselves as a health care community after experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. These programs are led by the system’s Helping Healers Heal (H3) teams in partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health.
“We’re proud to continue to expand our Helping Healers Heal programs and create more spaces for hospital workers to speak about their traumas and stressors, especially after the year they’ve had addressing the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer Eric Wei, MD, MBA. “Our hope is to continue to destigmatize mental health challenges for everyone – not just healthcare workers – to ensure people are comfortable and confident to seek the care they need.”
“People can’t achieve holistic wellness without also prioritizing their emotional and psychological well-being,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Charles Barron, MD. “Our public hospital system is proud to put mental health at the forefront of care, making available important services to patients and staff alike. No one should go through these challenges alone, and thanks to NYC Health + Hospitals, they won’t have to.”
“Depression does an amazing job of convincing us that there’s something wrong with us that no one else can possibly understand and we can’t possibly explain. But talking about depression, or whatever mental health struggles we’re facing, make them less scary and easier to deal with. That’s why panels like this are so important. We need to destigmatize mental health issues so that everyone can get the help they need and live healthier and happier lives,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
The “Breaking Through Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace” panel, which was made available to NYC Health + Hospitals staff, discussed topics including the emotional and psychological strains the pandemic placed on hospital staff, stigma associated with mental health challenges and seeking out support, and what individual workplaces, cities, and our state can do to break down mental health stigma and provide support services. The public can listen to the panel using this link.
In addition to the panel discussion, the public hospital system will make spaces for “Open Airway” events throughout facilities all month long. “Open Airways” are events that allow staff to share their stories around attaining support for their mental health challenges, and incorporating that into their whole-body healthcare. Events will take place in lobbies or break rooms in each of the system’s hospitals, Gotham Health community health clinics, or skilled-nursing facilities. Staff will be encouraged to share with their colleagues their experiences, with the goal of breaking down mental health stigma and potentially influencing a co-worker to seek out the care they need.
The public health system will also host “Inside Out Day,” an event where staff will wear items of clothing inside-out to symbolize that we don’t know how others are feeling on the inside, and to advocate for externalizing our inner emotions and sharing them with others.
Finally, the public health system also will host Stop Stigma, Start Healing, a competition to discuss expression and the benefits of strong mental health through art, spoken word, dance, or another creative piece. Creative pieces will be shared via a submission portal. At the end of the month, a committee will vote on some of the most powerful pieces and share more broadly with the health system’s community.
In addition to a $1.5 million grant in 2019 to support the Arts in Medicine programs, in 2020 the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund provided NYC Health + Hospitals $500,000 to help support the system’s emotional and psychological support services.
“We are extraordinarily proud to support such important programs at NYC Health + Hospitals. In addition to the stress and trauma of saving lives every day, our public hospital workers have been at the epicenter of the pandemic and the social and emotional upheavals of the past year. NYC Health + Hospitals’ mental wellness programs are among the most innovative and effective in the country. Unfortunately, stigma often prevents people from seeking the care they need to process their feelings. This month’s anti-stigma campaign takes a fun and creative approach to raise awareness of the programs offered and encourages everyone to get help whenever they need it,” said Laurie M. Tisch, President of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
These programs, led by the system’s Helping Healers Heal (H3) teams in partnership with the Office of Behavioral Health and made available to all employees, are aimed at helping to identify and monitor distress, as well as to assist staff in resilience-building while aiding the utilization of recovery resources and coping support services. NYC Health + Hospitals continues to urge all staff members to seek mental health care to support their wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond.
Since the COVID-19 peak in NYC, programs led through NYC Health + Hospitals for staff mental wellness saw:
- Over 23,400 proactive unit-based wellness rounds, which include mental health experts and peer-support teams actively engaging employees working in areas heavily affected by COVID-19. Wellness rounds focus on identifying and supporting employees showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and burnout, and connecting them to services if requested – including one-on-one telephonic, in-person debrief, or anonymous counseling;
- Nearly 4,000 additional H3 debrief encounters that include group debriefs, 1:1 peer support sessions, and wellness events. These encounters are formally structured as open forum directives that are facilitated utilizing the skills of licensed creative arts therapists, other mental health practitioners, as well as H3 leads with the intention to allow thoughts and feelings to be expressed and shared verbally and nonverbally using the healing powers of creativity and art. This provides frontline staff the opportunity to share their experiences in a safe environment with other staff who were experiencing similar days and stress;
- Nearly 200 calls to the public health system’s anonymous behavioral health employee-only hotline, which connects employees in need of support with psychiatrists/ psychologists, and is staffed by NYC Health + Hospitals employee volunteers;
- Approximately 72,800 visits to respite/wellness rooms, allowing staff to take a break and engage in calming activities, such as meditation or crafting. Respite rooms are staffed by licensed mental health professionals standing at the ready to provide support to any staff that needed it.
The Helping Healers Heal program was launched at NYC Health + Hospitals in 2018 by President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz and Chief Quality Officer Dr. Eric Wei. The program is rooted in national research that points to health care providers as “Second Victims” of traumatic events commonly experienced in all healthcare settings. Since its launch, the program has grown to be more inclusive of compassion fatigue, burnout, complex and collective trauma, and more. All H3 teams include licensed mental health practitioners and other behavioral health experts.
All NYC Health + Hospitals staff members who may be experiencing mental health challenges are urged to seek support through any modality offered to all employees throughout the system.
New Yorkers interested in seeking out mental health support can reach out to 844-NYC-4NYC for an appointment at NYC Health + Hospitals, or by reaching out to NYC Well.