With COVID Increases, NYC Well, The Comprehensive Mental Health Helpline Is Thriving

The Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) today announced that NYC Well, the City’s free helpline for mental health and substance use services, has responded to more than one million calls, texts, and chats from people seeking mental health support since launching in October 2016. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the service has seen significant usage.

NYC Well responded to 57 percent more calls, texts, and chats between September 1 and October 31, 2020 than during the same period in 2019.

To mark this milestone accomplishment, ThriveNYC, the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, and DOHMH released the results of an independent evaluation finding that NYC Well is increasing access to behavioral health support and reaching a diverse range of New Yorkers, with significantly improved mental health symptoms observed among those served.

Conducted by Abt Associates, the evaluation found that nearly 20 percent of surveyed NYC Well users reported that if they had not contacted NYC Well, they would not have spoken to anyone about their mental health needs.

“This report shows that NYC Well is a lifeline for New Yorkers, especially in communities of color, where too many barriers have prevented individuals and families from receiving care and support when they need it most,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “Now, more than ever, one of the biggest challenges to accessing appropriate mental health services is knowing where to turn, and with NYC Well those connections are being made 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

“New Yorkers have turned to NYC Well for the support over one million times, including at high levels during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This evaluation tells us they’ve gotten high-quality service – a key to ensuring that all New Yorkers can access mental health support where, when and how they need it,” said Susan Herman, Director of the Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC.

Over 1.6 million adults New Yorkers experience mental illness each year, yet hundreds of thousands of those affected are not connected to mental health support. NYC Well was created to increase connection to care by offering immediate support to New Yorkers regardless of where they are, what emotional state they are in, or what signs and symptoms they display.

Any New Yorker can get immediate mental health support by calling 1-888-NYC-Well, texting “WELL” to 65173, or visiting nyc.gov/nycwell. The service, a signature ThriveNYC initiative, is free, confidential, accessible in over 200 languages, and available 24/7 regardless of insurance or immigration status.

The independent evaluation published today finds that NYC Well is delivering on its goals. Key findings include:

  • NYC Well users surveyed overwhelmingly report that NYC Well effectively addressed their needs. Nearly 90 percent of surveyed NYC Well users reported that NYC Well helped them deal with their problems.
  • NYC Well is increasing support for people who would otherwise go without. Nearly one in five surveyed NYC Well users noted they would not have contacted anyone in the absence of NYC Well.
  • Many see NYC Well as an alternative to emergency services. Twenty-three percent of surveyed NYC Well users, including both those contacting the program on their own behalf and those contacting on behalf of someone else (e.g., a friend or family member), reported that, if not for NYC Well, they would have considered calling 911 or going to an emergency room.
  • NYC Well is serving New Yorkers with a wide range of behavioral health needs, including people with severe mental health distress, who report significant improvement in their symptoms over time. More than 80 percent of surveyed NYC Well users reported moderate or severe psychological distress when contacted soon after their NYC Well contact. In a follow-up survey conducted six months later, Abt Associates observed statistically significant reductions in psychological distress among those who initially reported these symptoms. At the six-month follow-up, surveyed NYC Well users were less likely to report that they felt depressed, nervous or hopeless most or all of the time.
  • A diverse range of New Yorkers is reaching out to NYC Well for help. Among those contacting the program for themselves, 36 percent identify as White, 30 percent as Black or African American, 8 percent as Asian, 18 percent as other, and 8 percent indicated multiple races. Surveyed NYC Well users were asked a separate question about their ethnicity, to which 26 percent of those who had called NYC Well for themselves identified as Latinx or Hispanic.

The complete evaluation is available here.

“New Yorkers have done so much to keep themselves and their city healthy and safe,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “However, for people feeling stressed and alone, there is one more thing they can do – reach out for help. Support is available 24/7. And, of course, to the staff of NYC Well, we owe you a million thanks. Congratulations on this milestone.”

“With many New Yorkers struggling through this difficult time, NYC Well is providing a vital resource for those in need of connection and support,” said Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity Executive Director, Matthew Klein. “We are pleased to partner with ThriveNYC and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to support an independent review of this initiative, and are happy to share the findings that NYC Well is meeting a range of needs for diverse populations, and playing an important role in the City’s mental health service landscape.”

Managed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and operated by Vibrant Emotional Health, NYC Well offers crisis and suicide prevention counseling, short-term counseling, peer support, help setting appointments with mental healthcare providers, and connection to Mobile Crisis Teams, which deploy more than 20,000 times a year to respond to urgent mental health situations, often serving children and adults in their homes.

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“The data clearly show that NYC Well is providing an important service to a diverse array of New Yorkers, and providing access to behavioral health care for individuals who may not have otherwise sought care,” said Dr. Alicia Sparks, the evaluation’s Principal Investigator at Abt Associates. “Our ability to follow up with a large sample of NYC Well users over a longer timeframe offers important insights into how individuals who contact behavioral health helplines like NYC Well interact with other behavioral health services, and how their mental health symptoms can change over time.”

“Vibrant Emotional Health believes in leveraging technology to provide high-quality mental health support to individuals where, when and how they need it,” said Kelly Clarke, Vibrant’s Program Director for NYC Well. “This important milestone of 1,000,000 calls/chats/texts answered is really a testament to the strength of those who reached out to obtain support for themselves or their loved ones. We value their trust in the high-quality support provided by NYC Well Counselors and Peer Support Specialists.”

“Knowing that I was able to help even a few individuals out of 1,000,000 contacts at NYC Well, brings me a sense of purpose and fulfillment,” said Kelvin, Counselor with NYC Well. “During these chaotic times, active listening, empathy, and intervention – three of NYC Well’s approaches to serving its clients – can help bring some relief to many whose mental health has been affected. I take pride in being able to aid in offering some support to individuals in need.”

“As a person who lives with schizoaffective bipolar disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, NYC Well has been an exceptional resource for me,” said Zisa Oyeama Aziza, a social service provider in Queens. “Calling NYC Well has helped me process my emotions, address my fears, think through my coping strategies, and saved me from walking myself to the hospital in times of crisis. I am happy that so many New Yorkers are using this wonderful resource, and I hope more people continue to take advantage of it – especially those who are underserviced in our communities.”

Methodology

The Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity contracted Abt Associates, an independent consulting and research firm, to conduct this rigorous mixed-methods evaluation of NYC Well.

The Abt team examined administrative survey data from all NYC Well calls, texts, and chats between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2019. They also recruited over 1,000 NYC Well users to participate in two follow-up surveys about their experience, including people who contacted on behalf of someone else, and those who contacted on their own behalf.

The first survey took place one to two weeks after initial contact with NYC Well, and the second six months afterward. Additionally, the Abt team collected qualitative data through 20 in-depth interviews with a subset of users who completed the first survey.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is one of the largest public health agencies in the world and one of the nation’s oldest public health agencies, with more than 200 years of leadership in the field.

Charged with protecting and promoting the health of 8 million diverse New Yorkers, the Department is involved in the inspection grades of dining establishments, the licenses dogs wear, the low- to no-cost health clinics in local neighborhoods and the birth certificates for the littlest New Yorkers.

The Department is also behind the scenes with disease detectives, investigating suspicious clusters of illness. The agency’s epidemiologists also study the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in New York City neighborhoods. These studies shape policy decisions and the City’s health agenda.

The Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity) uses evidence and innovation to reduce poverty and increase equity. It advances research, data, and design in the City’s program and policy development, service delivery, and budget decisions.

Its work includes analyzing existing anti-poverty approaches, developing new interventions, facilitating the sharing of data across City agencies, and rigorously assessing the impact of key initiatives.

NYC Opportunity manages a discrete fund and works collaboratively with City agencies to design, test, and oversee new programs and digital products.

It also produces research and analysis of poverty and social conditions, including its influential annual Poverty Measure, which provides a more accurate and comprehensive picture of poverty in New York City than the federal rate.

Part of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, NYC Opportunity is active in supporting the de Blasio administration’s priority to make equity a core governing principle across all agencies.

The Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC (ThriveNYC) oversees a citywide commitment to promoting mental health for all New Yorkers. ThriveNYC partners with 12 City agencies to implement 30 innovative mental health programs that serve hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every year. Thrive programs reach people with the highest need – those with serious mental illness, those affected by trauma, and those living in historically underserved neighborhoods.

Thrive programs also break down barriers to care for all New Yorkers by providing free services in multiple languages, regardless of insurance or immigration status. ThriveNYC’s work prioritizes equity and inclusion and builds the evidence base for innovative approaches. For more information on the reach and impact of NYC Well and all 30 of ThriveNYC’s innovative programs, visit the ThriveNYC Data Dashboard.

Abt Associates is a global consulting and research firm that uses data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people’s lives. From combatting infectious disease such as Covid-19 and reducing maternal mortality, to conducting rigorous program evaluations to inform policy and expanding access to high-quality health care —and more—we partner with clients and communities to tackle their most complex challenges.


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