Nov. 17 2015

NYC Report Highlights Mailman Findings on Mental Health

New research by the Mailman School’s GRAPH group is highlighted in a high-profile report by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio administration that for the first time reveals the vast scale of mental health problems in New York City, including its human and financial costs.

Released on Thursday during Mental Health Wellness Week, the report cites an analysis by GRAPH finding mental illness and substance use disorders are among the leading contributors to the overall disease burden for New Yorkers, with depression as the single largest contributor after heart disease. Major depressive disorder, the city-sponsored research adds, is the greatest source of disability in New York City, contributing with substance misuse to $14 billion in estimated annual productivity losses.

For the one in five New Yorkers with mental health problems, disability can take many forms. In the most common, depression, people are beset with extreme sadness, lethargy, insomnia, and an inability to enjoy simple things in life. In a given year, depression affects a half a million adult New Yorkers, yet the vast majority of them of report that they are not getting care for it.

The research findings lay the groundwork for ThriveNYC, the de Blasio administration’s new data-driven policy roadmap for addressing mental illness and promoting mental health. Details of the plan will be announced in coming weeks, and are expected to continue to draw on public health science. 

A first for New York City, the insights on disability, disease burden, and productivity losses uncover the extent of a problem hidden in plain sight. “Mental illness that is not visible in the way that a broken arm is,” said Peter Muennig, who led the GRAPH research. “We confront it on the streets, but do not understand it when we see it.”

The report draws on data from the School’s GRAPH program, which explores the fiscal benefit of health interventions. Co-authors of the report, “Behavioral Health in York City: The Burden, Cost, and Return on Investment,” include Jeff Goldsmith, assistant professor of Biostatistics, and Abdul El-Sayed, formerly an assistant professor of Epidemiology.

On Twitter, First Lady Chirlane McCray, who has spearheaded the city’s mental health agenda, thanked the Mailman School “for providing us with invaluable insight into this mental health crisis.” In her own tweet, Health Commissioner Mary Bassett acknowledged the School’s work to understand the full burden and cost of mental health inaction.”

“Mental illnesses are responsible for a good deal of suffering among New Yorkers,” said Muennig, associate professor of Health Policy and Management. “More importantly, some can be prevented or treated.”

In announcing the report, Gary S. Belkin, executive deputy commissioner for mental hygiene at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, observed that New York City has been a public health leader on issues from smoking and obesity to lead poisoning and HIV, saying, “We can be just as ambitious with setting mental health goals.”