Improving the lives of families and individuals in NYC affected by mental illness requires our government to be champions for legislation that impacts the mental health system.

We believe that’s worth fighting for.

When we bring the perspective of the family AND the person living with mental illness directly to policymakers, we educate elected officials to prioritize policy decisions that ensure quality services, and enhance recovery for the mental health community in New York.

Upcoming Public Event

Improving Psychiatric Care in NYC Hospital Emergency Rooms

In 2019, a coalition led by NAMI-NYC and Manhattan Together conducted surveys of patients and their family members who had received psychiatric treatment in New York City hospital emergency rooms.

Find out what these patients and their family members say about the emergency room experience, and what they would like to see done to improve the quality of care. Join us on Zoom for a presentation and discussion of these critical findings during Mental Illness Awareness Week.

ASL and Spanish interpretation as well as automated closed captioning will be available in the Zoom meeting.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021, from 6 to 7:30pm ET

Click here to RSVP

Our Speakers

  • John DeNatale
  • Alan Doyle
  • Joanne Kennedy
  • Raymond Schwartz
  • Rabbi Larry Siebert
  • Kimberly Blair, moderator

Co-sponsored with Manhattan Together.

Apply to our Advocacy Ambassador program

Join the fight for better mental health services in NYC and share your story with elected officials! The NAMI-NYC Advocacy Ambassador program provides families and individuals impacted by mental illness with the skills and training needed to meet with elected officials and create change in their communities.

Sharing your lived experience with an elected official in your area is an important way to make a difference in the life of your loved one or yourself. Meeting with policymakers gives you the opportunity to directly voice your concerns, and shows legislators that voters care about improving the lives of families and individuals impacted by mental illness. By getting involved in mental health advocacy work with NAMI-NYC, you can help shape legislation and build power in the NYC mental health community.

Ambassadors will participate in a training series that teaches best practices for meeting with elected officials and building the relationships required to achieve policy wins. After their training, Advocacy Ambassadors will be champions for policy that impacts the mental health of New Yorkers in their communities, and working together with NAMI-NYC staff, will be responsible for making sure elected officials in their area are informed about and supportive of important mental health issues. Ambassadors are also dedicated to building grassroots power by assisting friends, family, and other community members with contacting their own elected officials, and explaining the importance of supporting policies that will allow families and individuals impacted by mental illness to live their best lives.

Ambassadors assemble on a quarterly basis for our General Body Meetings, with optional subcommittee meetings in the issue areas of increasing access to healthcare, education, and decriminalizing mental illness. Subcommittee meetings are an opportunity for Ambassadors to build subject matter expertise in a policy area they are passionate about, all the while building community. To learn more about those policy areas read below.

NAMI-NYC Policy Priorities

Increasing Access to Healthcare

NAMI-NYC is firmly committed to enacting policies that increase access to mental health services, and improve the quality of those services.

We believe in a person-centered approach to healthcare to assist people living with mental illness. Integral to the goal of person-centered healthcare is the ability for people living with a mental illness to access the most appropriate treatments to advance their specific recovery. Healthcare projects NAMI-NYC supports include:

New York Health Act

The New York Health Act (S.5474/A.6058) would create a single-payer healthcare system for New York, eliminating the power of insurance companies to dictate treatment, and providing healthcare access for the uninsured as well. NAMI-NYC supports the New York Health Act, as it will provide cheaper, easier to access, mental healthcare for all New Yorkers.

Improving the Psych ER Experience for Patients

We have heard firsthand from community members the challenges they have faced when seeking emergency hospital care for their mental health needs. For this reason, NAMI-NYC’s Board Advocacy Committee and member organizations of Manhattan Together launched a survey in September 2019 to capture the experiences of patients and their supporting friends and family members after visiting psychiatric emergency rooms across New York City.

Based on the results of this survey, as well as anecdotal evidence from our community members, we have committed to advocating for key items we believe would enhance the overall psychiatric emergency room experience. These include:

  1. Addressing long wait times by ending the reduction of psychiatric hospital beds available for patients. Note: the limited number of psychiatric hospital beds has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Stopping the unnecessary consolidation of inpatient psychiatric hospitals in the city, such as New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital.
  3. Presenting our survey results to hospital representatives to improve standards of quality care and treatment of consumers/patients by their staff.
  4. Sharing our survey findings with community-based providers, independent clinicians, and the greater NAMI-NYC community to encourage the establishment of Psychiatric Advance Directives (PAD) and other resources in place beforehand in order to best support peers if a crisis were to arise.
  5. Fighting for more city-funded, but community-operated respite centers to serve as an intermediary step for those experiencing crises to avoid escalation of symptoms that could result in hospitalization.

Expansions to Telehealth

During the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State saw expansions to telehealth, including telepsychiatry and teletherapy, that occurred via gubernatorial executive orders, and later via statewide budget proposals, which allowed for reforms and relaxations of practicing guidelines and insurance coverage requirements. These telehealth expansions not only allowed for members of our community to remain adherent to their recovery journeys and medication regimens during a time of uncertainty in our world, but they also made it accessible for more people to seek treatment for their mental health conditions for the very first time. We would like to see this progress continue and for mental health care to become accessible to every New Yorker who needs it. For this reason, we support S.5505/A.6256, which would provide long-lasting reform by mandating parity in coverage and reimbursement for telehealth services.

Mental Health Equity

It is paramount that we address the pockets of care deserts across our city in order to address disparities in mental health outcomes between different racial and ethnic groups. NAMI-NYC knows that increased access to culturally-competent and linguistically-appropriate mental health services is necessary in historically underserved communities in order to reduce disparities in outcomes. Our advocacy efforts include meetings with city council members to request more funding and accountability for these appropriate mental health services to reach every NYC community member who needs it. At the state level, we recommend legislators to support S.5209/A.7239, which would enact the “minority mental health act” to establish a division of minority mental health within the office of mental health and be responsible for assuring that mental health programs and services are culturally and linguistically appropriate to meet the needs of BIPOC community members.

In addition to this legislation, we also encourage the enactment of S.3221/A.5751, which would allow mental health professionals licensed as mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists or psychologists the authority to diagnose mental health conditions. Passing such a bill and enacting it into law would mean that there would be more licensed mental health professionals within our city who could bill for the treatment plans that they already provide to our community members and increase the amount of care available across our city, especially where there are current shortages or waitlists for mental health care. We know that licensed mental health counselors especially, receive the same amount of training (and sometimes more) as licensed social workers do and so there is no reason to limit their ability to diagnose. We also acknowledge that by not allowing these capable mental health professionals the privilege to diagnose, the state is also limiting a large number of BIPOC professionals who could provide increased care that is culturally-competent and linguistically-appropriate to a wide range of New Yorkers.


NAMI-NYC supports integrating mental health education into our educational system so we can increase understanding about mental illness, and give students and educators the tools needed to support themselves and their peers with mental health challenges.

Education is a critical instrument in fighting mental health stigma and creating healthier communities. Education projects NAMI-NYC supports include:

Supporting Continuing Education in Mental Health

Senate Bill 2774 provides teachers with mental health training so they know the signs of common mental health conditions. Students often spend more time at school than at home, and the amount of time teachers spend with their students puts them on the front lines of childhood mental health. It’s important we give teachers the tools they need to identify and support students who have a mental illness. Through direct connection with local elected officials, and through the hard work of our Advocacy Ambassadors, NAMI-NYC is committed to make this bill become a reality. We urge the legislature to pass S. 2774.

Decriminalizing Mental Illness

NAMI-NYC is dedicated to working with families and communities to enact policies that divert people living with a mental illness from the criminal legal system and towards recovery.

Further, we support improving our criminal legal system and the movement towards decarceration, to help ensure the best outcomes for people living with a mental illness who enter or exit the system. Some ways NAMI-NYC supports decriminalizing mental illness include:

Effective Implementation of a 988 Number

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) formally designated 988 as the nationwide 3-digit number to use for mental health crisis and suicide prevention services calls. By July 16, 2022, all 50 states must implement this number and route calls through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

NAMI-NYC supports the statewide implementation of a 988 number, especially one that can link mental health crisis calls to appropriate, non-police response teams. At the state level, State Senators Samra Brouk and Pete Harckham and Assembly Member Aileen Gunther introduced S.6194B and A.7177B bills to begin the necessary framework to build this lifeline system. S.1764/A.4224 also supports these bills by redirecting mental health crisis calls that come into the division of veterans’ services to the 988 number. At the city level, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Council Members Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Helen K. Rosenthal, Farah N. Louis, and Ben Kallos introduced Int. 2222, with the hopes of getting a jumpstart on the implementation of a 988 number and the call operators that would support our five boroughs.

#CAHOOTSinNYC (Non-Police Crisis Response)

Since 2015, 18 people have been murdered after the police responded to mental health crisis calls in our city — 15 of those individuals identified as Black or brown. As a Steering Committee Member of the Correct Crisis Intervention Today-NYC (CCIT-NYC) coalition, NAMI-NYC strives to transform how New York City responds to the 200,000+ mental health crises calls now responded to by the NYPD. We do this by advocating for the implementation of a non-police response model to mental health crisis calls in NYC. The crisis model would mirror the community-based, peer-led mobile CAHOOTS teams that have proven successful in responding to mental health crises calls in Eugene, Oregon for over 30 years. We know from evidence, as well as through a series of conversations with different impacted community members across NYC, that it is past due for our city government to implement a similar CAHOOTS approach to crisis response in NYC, consisting of 1 trained peer crisis worker and 1 independent medic, that could save countless lives. NAMI-NYC specifically advocates for the $112 million in city funding allocated for non-police response to go toward instituting the CCIT-NYC model, which is the only model to center peers at its core and to have known positive outcomes.

Crisis Respite Centers

Respite Centers create an alternative to arrest for people suffering from substance use disorder or a mental health episode by creating “health diversion centers” where individuals can get short-term treatment until they are stable. New York City currently has a few respite centers operated by community-based organizations and “support and connection centers” operated by the city government. These centers can be a key step in helping shift people living with a mental illness away from the criminal legal system and towards recovery. NAMI-NYC would like to see an increase in the number of respite centers available, especially in communities where there are currently none. We would also like to see increased city funding available for community-based organizations to operate respite centers to promote more local care and resources that are culturally-competent and linguistically-appropriate. We believe that putting these centers in the hands of organizations who are well-experienced in operating them will also ensure the success of these centers emphasizing long-term treatment and recovery.

Mental Health Courts

Mental health courts were established to improve the response of the criminal legal system to individuals with serious mental illness who committed low-level non-violent offenses. Their goal is to reduce the incarceration and recidivism of these individuals with mental health conditions by linking them to local behavioral health science providers to develop individualized treatment plans. As part of the Treatment Not Jails coalition, we support the use of mental health courts to properly treat the mental illnesses underlying some criminal offenses, rather than further deteriorating an individual’s mental health by placing them in jail or prison. NAMI-NYC supports the passing of the Treatment Not Jails Act (S.2881/A.6603), which would improve the use of these courts, especially those that accept defendants with Axis I diagnoses, PTSD, and substance use disorders. While our goal is to invest in community resources so that people living with mental health conditions do not end up arrested, we are committed to promoting awareness about mental health courts as an alternative to typical criminal proceedings to better the lives of those who unfortunately do have to face the criminal legal system.

Enforcement of the H.A.L.T. Act

After a twenty-year battle, New York finally joined 13 other states in April 2021 in enacting the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (H.A.L.T. Act). The law reforms the use of long-term isolation as punishment for vulnerable population members, such as individuals living with mental illnesses. While true victory would have been for our state to eradicate solitary confinement in all forms since research shows its long-term negative effects on mental health, NAMI-NYC still commends the State for taking a step in the right direction on behalf of our community members. Moving forward, it is our advocacy goal to make sure that all prisons located within or near NYC actively adhere to the H.A.L.T. Act and that the city abides by its June 2021 commitment to end solitary confinement in all NYC jails. So far, the NYC Board of Corrections (BOC) has fallen short in adhering to this commitment to end solitary confinement by continuing to implement a restrictive housing rule (issued in light of the H.A.L.T. Act), which continues to promote solitary confinement in NYC jails by other means.

Have questions? Email our manager of public policy and advocacy.

May 26, 2021

Decriminalizing Mental Illness – An Urgent Issue Briefing

Approximately 60% of individuals in the prison and jail systems live with a diagnosable mental illness, and most find out for the first time after they have been incarcerated. This is completely unjust. One of NAMI-NYC’s advocacy goals is to promote non-police response to mental health crises calls across the city, including the implementation of a 988 number, and peer-led response teams, to prevent this issue.

Panelists discuss the root causes of the over-criminalization of people living with mental illness, especially Black and brown individuals. We delve into the issues of broken windows policing around the city and within NYCHA housing, bias and discrimination in non-peers responding to crises calls, the mental health care infrastructure needed to respond to crises calls around the city, as well as other crucial topics regarding mental health and decriminalization. Our goal is to have audience members act to ensure that our new leadership knows how to appropriately address these issues across the city.

Our panelists:

Cosponsored by the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), Correct Crisis Intervention Today-NYC (CCIT-NYC), Community Access, and others.

Watch the replay here

Real stories from real people make real change.

NAMI-NYC is dedicated to making sure elected officials and other decision makers hear directly from families and individuals impacted by mental illness.

Please click here to share your story with us, to help policymakers understand why mental healthcare needs to be a top priority.