Trying to make mental health her signature issue, the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, took her fight to the nation’s capital Wednesday, speaking about a health crisis that’s affected her own family. Washington bureau reporter Alberto Pimienta sat down with McCray for a one-on-one interview and filed the following report.
First Lady Chirlane McCray says she has a mission.
"We all have family members, friends, neighbors, and it shouldn’t be such a mystery. There’s no health without mental health. We can make it less fearful," McCray said.
She wants to demystify mental illness. While initially keeping a low public profile, she’s increasingly sharing her story. The de Blasios' daughter, Chiara, suffers from depression and is recovering from drug abuse. Knowledge of the first family’s struggle has allowed others to open up.
"People always come up to me afterwards and tell me theirs and they feel more free, they feel liberated, and I know that we can change the culture around mental health,"
As part of that effort, the first lady is in Washington to build support for her mental health agenda. She is meeting with lawmakers to encourage them to pass mental health reform legislation.
While her husband is dealing with a fundraising scandal at home, McCray is hitting the road and trying to change the conversation in Washington. Saying that one in five New Yorkers suffer from mental illness, she notes that the city unveiled a program aimed at the crisis, Thrive NYC.
"Cities can lead. Cities can do this," McCray said.
McCray says the more people tell their story, the better everyone will be. She wants people to know mental illness can be treated.
"One of the most powerful tools we have is for people to tell their own personal stories about what has happened to them, how they’ve suffered, how they’ve gotten treatment and gone on to live successful lives," McCray said.
She says she wants New Yorkers to know they are not alone.
"The most important step is that first step of reaching out to somebody and talking to somebody you trust to get help. And it does get better. It really does," McCray said. "The worst thing anyone can do is to not reach out, not talk to anyone.”
City Hall says it is hoping to train 250,000 New Yorkers in its mental health first aid program. It’s a program that the sometimes-quiet McCray has no problem talking about.