Chirlane McCray Enlists New York Clergy in Mental Health Outreach


Source: The New York Times

In a sermon on Sunday to about 450 people at Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn, the Rev. Dominique Chantell Atchison searched Scripture for words to help fight the stigma surrounding mental healthissues.

She used a story of a disabled man, in St. John’s Gospel, who picked up a mat — forbidden on the Sabbath — and walked to a healing pool to be cured. It was acceptable for the man to pick up the mat, Ms. Atchison explained, and it is acceptable for people to be treated for mental illness.

“People have to find their own way to healing,” she said. “Sometimes, that’s God anointing a therapist or balancing the chemicals in your body with medication.”

Clergy across New York City were talking to their flocks over the weekend about mental health as part of an ambitious education push by Chirlane McCray, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife. The three-day campaign was one of Ms. McCray’s largest engagement efforts to promoteThriveNYC, a plan to overhaul the city’s mental health system. Over four years, the city will spend $850 million on mental health programs.


Ms. McCray at St. John Chrysostom Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx.CreditJoshua Bright for The New York Times

But first, the public has to be convinced that mental illness exists and that it is acceptable to seek help, Ms. McCray said. Houses of worship, where some parishioners may lean on faith instead of medicine and therapy for mental health issues, seemed a good place to start after an unexpectedly high level of clergy participation, she said.

So many clergy expressed interest that Ms. McCray said she and other officials thought the weekend campaign, which is part of a community outreach initiative that will also include barbershops and beauty salons, could be a way to galvanize support. “They’re front-line workers, they’re first responders,” Ms. McCrary said in an interview on Sunday. “They’re, like, ‘What do we do? People come to us for quote-unquote spiritual guidance, but they are looking for something else.’ They don’t know how to handle it.”

According to the mayor’s office, about 1,000 churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship participated in the three-day event, called Mental Health Weekend of Faith, reaching an estimated 250,000 people.

On Sunday, Ms. McCray, who said she was raised an Episcopalian, traveled from pulpit to pulpit. At the cavernous Riverside Church in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, she followed a choir of fidgety children in purple robes who adorably belted out “This Little Light of Mine.” Seated in a pew, Ms. McCray sang along.

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