/ January 5, 2021

Gotham Gazette: This Holiday Season, Mental Health Support is Here for New Yorkers

December 22, 2020 | by Dr. Hillary Kunins & Susan Herman

The holidays can be an emotionally-charged time and bring up mixed feelings that may include stress, grief, and loneliness and also feelings of joy, gratitude, and hope for the new year, sometimes all at the same time.

But this year is filled with new challenges — so many New Yorkers have experienced significant losses and will celebrate the holidays differently than in past years. Health care providers and other essential workers have been on the front lines of a global crisis. All of us are dealing with the tremendous stress and uncertainty of this moment.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of New Yorkers have turned to the city’s mental health hotline, NYC Well, for mental health support. NYC Well’s counselors and peer support specialists have fielded more than 200,000 calls, texts, and chats since April, and there are no signs of the need slowing down. In the last two months, NYC Well has responded to more than one-and-a-half times the calls, texts, and chats than the same period last year.

A recent independent evaluation found that people reflecting a diverse range of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and education use the helpline’s services. Of the New Yorkers contacting NYC Well during the evaluation period, 36% identified as white, 30% as Black or African-American, 8% as Asian, and 8% indicated multiple races. In a separate question, 26% identified as Latino or Hispanic.

The reasons New Yorkers contact NYC Well vary as greatly as New Yorkers themselves. Some have reached out in a moment of crisis, or to receive a referral for therapy at a clinic that accepts their insurance. Others have wanted tips on dealing with overwhelming stress and uncertainty. Some New Yorkers with mental health challenges use the service regularly to connect with peers with lived mental health experience for support in addition to other ways they manage their health. Many people reach out because they’re worried about someone they know. In cases where urgent in-home intervention is needed, mobile crisis teams of behavioral health professionals can be dispatched to address the crisis and link the person to ongoing services.

This holiday season may look and feel different from past years and may bring new challenges. NYC Well is always just a phone call, text, or chat away. Call 888-NYC-WELL (888-692-9355), text “WELL” to 65173, or chat at nyc.gov/nycwell. NYC Well’s website also offers a number of wellbeing and emotional support applications (apps) that can help you cope.

You will be treated with respect and empathy. Your conversations will be kept confidential, and you can get help in the language you’re comfortable. NYC Well offers translation services for over 200 languages.

There’s a reason why NYC Well has answered over a million calls, texts, and chats from New Yorkers: no matter who you are or what you’re dealing with, talking to someone can help. This holiday season, NYC Well is here for you.

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Dr. Hillary Kunins is the Executive Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene at the New York City Department of Health. Susan Herman is Director of the Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC. On Twitter @MentalHealthNYC.