Policy Platform

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:

Keep Allen Psychiatric Hospital open
Allen Psychiatric Hospital provides crucial mental health services to the Washington Heights-Inwood neighborhoods, which is an underserved area of NYC. Closing this psych unit would remove a severely needed mental health resource, and would only exacerbate our city’s mental health crisis. We support keeping Allen Psych hospital open, and increasing funding for psychiatric hospitals.

New York Health Act
The New York Health Act 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.

Education

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:

Bill A5313/S5704
This bill 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 A5313/S5704.

Criminal Justice

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

Further, we support improving our criminal justice system, to help ensure the best outcomes for people living with a mental illness who enter or exit the system. Criminal Justice projects NAMI-NYC supports include:

Diversion Centers
Diversion Centers would create an alternative to arrest for people suffering from substance abuse or a mental health episode by creating “health diversion centers” where individuals can get short-term treatment until they are stable. We believe the creation of health diversion centers can be a key step in helping shift people living with a mental illness away from the criminal justice system and towards recovery. NAMI-NYC supports increased funding for these centers so they can finally open and begin their important work. We also are committed to ensuring these diversion centers emphasize treatment and recovery.

Mental Health Courts
Mental health courts were established to improve the response of the criminal justice 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 by linking offenders to local behavioral health science providers to develop individualized treatment plans, under intensive supervision by the courts. To participate, one must plead guilty to the charges pressed against them. We believe the use of mental health courts is vital to properly treat the mental illnesses underlying some criminal offenses, rather than further deteriorating one’s mental health by placing them in jail or prison. NAMI-NYC supports the improved use of these courts, especially those that accept defendants with Axis I diagnoses, PTSD, and substance use disorders. We are committed to promoting awareness about these courts as an alternative to typical criminal proceedings to better the lives of those suffering from mental illness in the criminal justice system.

Crisis Response

As the quantity of emergency calls involving mental health crises continues to rise, so too does the number of families, friends, and individuals living with mental illness who are adversely affected by the grossly inadequate current response system. At least 16 people experiencing mental health crises have been killed by NYPD officers over the last three years. Moreover, individuals with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officials than other members of the community.

Too many lives have been taken by those who are called upon to help, not hurt, those in crisis. Mental health emergencies are not criminal acts and consequently should not be treated as such. For this reason, it is imperative that police officers be removed from calls involving such crises and replaced by mental health professionals, trained peers, and other non-police personnel who can ensure that such situations are handled calmly, appropriately, and in a manner that provides both short-term and long-term care to the individual in crisis. NAMI-NYC supports crisis response initiatives including:

Specifics:

  • The formation of new mobile crisis teams which (1) operate 24 hours a day, (2) respond quickly and efficiently to mental health emergencies throughout the five boroughs, (3) possess appropriate translating and cultural services, and (4) are comprised entirely of non-police personnel.
  • An increased amount of city resources devoted to configuring successful crisis response models to New York City’s unique social infrastructure, population, and social infrastructure. Input from community members will play a critical part in ensuring the success of these programs, and people with lived experience should be heavily involved in the process of developing such services along with local leaders and politicians.
  • The creation of an alternative three-digit phone number exclusively for mental health crises. As with 9-1-1, callers would be connected to trained dispatchers who can assess the situation and direct personnel quickly and efficiently throughout the five boroughs. However, instead of being headed by the NYPD, this number and its corresponding mobile crisis teams would be led entirely by non-police personnel. Successful implementation would both reduce the burden on law enforcement officials who routinely manage such crises as well as offer a human-centered approach to what should not be considered a criminal matter.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency of unprecedented proportions. Effective containment and mitigation strategies will thus require an equally vast and comprehensive public health response. While much of New York City’s current COVID-19 response has centered on preserving individuals’ physical health, it is likewise imperative that measures are introduced which work to protect New Yorkers’ mental health, which will likely be negatively affected by this crisis.

NAMI-NYC urges New York City’s lawmakers to protect individuals and families affected by mental illness crisis by carrying out the following recommendations relating to the COVID-19 emergency.

Specifics

Healthcare:

Health is one of the most valuable attributes a person can have. As people experience extraordinary levels of stress, loneliness, and unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that all New Yorkers have access to quality and affordable healthcare, including various mental health services and treatments.

To best address the pressing healthcare challenges of this time, NAMI-NYC endorses the following measures:

  • New York City must implement a universal healthcare system to ensure that all individuals can access the health services they need regardless of their job status, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or other potentially limiting factor.
  • In the absence of universal coverage, mental health parity is essential: all forms of mental healthcare (e.g., talk therapy, substance abuse therapy, psychiatry appointments, and medications) must be covered by all health insurance plans.
  • New York City must minimize disruptions to mental health services. This means that, for example, psychiatric units and other mental health facilities must remain properly staffed and have access to adequate supplies necessary to best help people living with mental illness.
  • Hospitals must not prematurely discharge patients with mental illness in an effort to clear space or reduce the need for staff. In the event that discharge is a practical next step, referential services and follow-up care must be made available to patients and must be in accordance with and manageable under physical distancing guidelines.
  • Psychiatric units and other in-patient facilities must allow visiting hours to occur digitally via video chats, phone calls, or other electronic means of communication. Staying connected with one’s social support system is crucial during a mental health crisis and especially so when this experience is compounded by a global public health emergency.

Housing:

Now more than ever, it is important that people have a safe and sanitary place to live, attend to their health, and adhere to public health guidelines. Individuals with mental illness who are living in tents or under bridges, transitioning in and out of shelters, or residing in group homes need a space where they can practice physical distancing and wash their hands regularly. This is paramount in the effort to protect both their health and the health of their fellow New Yorkers.

To best address the pressing housing challenges of this time, NAMI-NYC endorses the following measures:

  • New York City must suspend evictions from all housing during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as suspend utility payments which may present undue financial hardship or lead to evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suspending these payments will help keep both at-risk individuals and their broader communities safe.
  • New York City must increase funding to assist people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of falling into homelessness. Because people living with mental illness are more likely to face homeless, some of these funds should be allocated specifically to help people affected by mental illness as they are particularly vulnerable during this emergency.
  • Int. 1927-2020, a bill which would require the DHS to provide all single adults in the DHS shelter system or who are experiencing homelessness without shelter the option of a private room throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Criminal Justice:

New York’s jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers have been hit especially hard by COVID-19. With crowded living conditions and inadequate access to sanitation and hygiene products, incarcerated and detained people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. People with mental illness are overrepresented in our jails and prisons, with an estimated 44% of people in jails and 37% of people in state prisons living with mental illness. The abysmal state of our city’s criminal justice system exacerbates the physical and mental health dangers presented by COVID-19.

To best address the criminal justice challenges of this time, NAMI-NYC endorses the following measures:

  • Law enforcement agencies must maximize diversions from jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers by avoiding unnecessary arrests and incarcerations, such as those related to nonviolent offenses, parole violations, and immigration status.
  • Jails, prisons, and immigrant detention facilities must provide no-cost phone calls, video calls, and other forms of digital communication that can help people who are incarcerated and detained stay connected with their friends and families during this stressful and isolating time.
  • Jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers must reduce crowded living conditions by ensuring the release of incarcerated individuals who are detained over technicalities or who are eligible for early release. In order to be effective, these releases must be accompanied by the provision of services which ensure that previously-incarcerated individuals have access to adequate housing as well as to quality and affordable mental health services if needed.

It is essential that, as we face mounting threats to our physical health, we do not forget the importance of supporting individuals and families affected by mental illness who may be especially vulnerable during this time. NAMI-NYC urges lawmakers to help mitigate the damaging effects of COVID-19 and keep our city safe by addressing the healthcare, housing, and criminal justice issues which disproportionately impact individuals living with mental illness.

Funding:

Nonprofits and community based organizations are needed now more than ever. It’s critical these organizations receive the funding needed to continue employing staff and assisting communities. In addition, it’s important relief funds are specifically reserved for small organizations not large corporations.

Budget Justice

Currently, the NYPD’s annual budget rests at approximately $6 billion. NAMI-NYC proudly joins the growing efforts which urge New York City’s elected officials to immediately divest funds from the NYPD and reinvest those funds in critical social services and community-based organizations. Racial injustice is a public health crisis. As an organization committed to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness, NAMI-NYC cannot fully achieve its mission to improve the lives of individuals affected by mental illness until Black Lives Matter.

For this reason, NAMI-NYC supports the following initiatives:

  • Strategically divesting funds from the NYPD and reinvesting those funds in important social services and community-based organizations
  • Increasing the amount of city funds that are allocated to social services and community-based organizations by government officials

*Condensed memo?