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NYC announces mental health teams to respond to related crises

New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNYPD launches investigation after multiple people slashed on subway Yang: 'Defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City' Overnight Health Care: CDC says vaccinated people can take masks off indoors and outdoors | Missouri abandons voter-approved Medicaid expansion | White House unveils B plan to hire public health workers MORE (D) and the city's first lady, Chirlane McCray, on Tuesday announced that the city will be launching new mental health teams that will partner with police and fire department officials to respond to mental health-related 911 calls. 

The program, announced in a press conference hosted by de Blasio and McCray, will create new teams consisting of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) health professionals, as well as a mental health crisis worker, and will begin in two communities identified as “high-need.” 

The city also said in the press conference that the new mental health teams will respond to a “range of behavioral health problems.”  

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“This is the first time in our history that health professionals will be the default responders to mental health emergencies, an approach that is more compassionate and effective for better long-term outcomes,” McCray said Tuesday. 

McCray added that last year, there were 170,000 mental health calls made to 911. She said that approximately one call every three minutes was made by people needing assistance and with no indication of violence. 

“There is a myth out there that people who suffer from a mental illness are violent and that is one of the things that we work very hard to dispel with the work we’ve been doing around mental health,” McCray said.

De Blasio said that COVID-19, which hit New York City at some of the highest rates in the early months of the pandemic, has brought to the forefront long-standing issues of mental health in the area. 

“In this crisis, New Yorkers have suffered,” de Blasio said. “Families have gone through such trauma, such dislocation, so much pain. Think of the families in this city, think of the families that lost a loved one.”

“Think about the parents worried for their children and think about what it means if someone’s dealing with a mental health challenge already, to then deal with that mental health challenge in the midst of this kind of crisis,” the mayor added. “We have to address their needs and we have to do it in new ways.” 

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As of Tuesday afternoon, the city’s health department had recorded 263,330 coronavirus infections, as well as 19,419 deaths. 

This comes as COVID-19 has been linked to a greater risk of developing mental health disorders. A recent report from Oxford University found that 20 percent of COVID-19 survivors will receive a first-time mental health diagnosis within 90 days of infection. Among the most common are anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, insomnia and dementia.

There have been more fervent calls in recent months for police departments to add mental health teams and services, especially after the October police shooting of 27-year-old Black man Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia. 

An attorney representing Wallace’s family said that the man's family had requested an ambulance in a 911 call because he was having a mental health crisis before the fatal encounter with officers.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said following Wallace’s death that the department is in need of a behavioral health unit or a method to connect police calls with mental health professionals. 

“There’s clearly a disconnect on our end in terms of knowing what’s out there” at the scene, Outlaw told reporters at the time.