First Lady Chirlane McCray Raises Awareness About Mental Health

The city's First Lady begins a weekend tour, visiting houses of worship to raise awareness about mental health.  Her first stop was a church on Staten Island.  NY1's Lisa Voyticki reports.

Rev. Brenda Byrd knows firsthand what it's like to struggle with addiction.

"I was what you call a closet addict," said Byrd.  "I went to work everyday and I was high everyday."

Nearly 30 years later, Byrd is clean, and works as a pastor at the Christian Pentecostal Church on Richmond Road.

She and other religious leaders joined First Lady Chirlane McCray at the Reformed Church of Huguenot Park Thursday night.

They held an interfaith service, focused on ending the stigma against mental illness.

The First Lady is hoping clergy members will spread the word about Thrive NYC, a program that connects residents with the appropriate treatment.

She says one in five New Yorkers struggle with mental illness.

"They feel it’s a lack of discipline, a lack of moral character, lack of strength, that's not what it's about," said McCray.

She says 2,000 congregations in the city will hold services bringing attention to mental health in the coming days.

It's part of the second annual Weekend of Faith for Mental Health.

"So many people are suffering but we have the tools to help people and not enough people," said McCray.

This year the first lady also wanted to highlight substance abuse.  She says that's why she started the weekend worship tour on Staten Island.

"We do a lot of funerals and we have never had so many young people through overdoses," said Monsignor Vincent Bartley, of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church.

Staten Island is the borough with the highest number of deaths from opioid overdoses. The administration wants to reduce opioid-related deaths by 35 percent over the next three years through a program called HealingNYC.  McCray encouraged residents to learn how to use naloxone, a nasal spray which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.  The city gave out more than 15,000 kits last year.  

"Everyday of the week we have AA, narcotics anonymous and we have meetings around the clock from early morning and late at night," said Msgr. Bartley. 

Rabbi Judah Newberger, emeritus Congregation B'Nai Jeshurun, says he's referred congregants to professional health counselors, but some people also need spiritual guidance.  He recalls one case, where a congregant only found success through his faith.

"Because I was able to reach this person on a spiritual level and they were not I was able to help him," said Newberger.

Pastor Byrd is launching a recovery program herself with anther faith leader in June.

"I was shooting heroin and shooting cocaine and so I know that there's hope because you're looking at a miracle," said Byrd.

New Yorkers can get free mental health support by calling 1-888-NYC-WELL. 

 

 

 

 

 

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