A few weeks ago, the New York Stock Exchange hosted a summit of business leaders and advocates at its Wall Street headquarters, a meeting convened by New York City’s first lady Chirlane McCray and activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. The topic that brought this unlikely duo together was their shared concern about the impact of mental illness on both individual New Yorkers and the overall health of our city.
Beginning with McCray and Ackman, one speaker after another described a family or personal experience with mental illness. Then the discussion moved to how much it costs our city and its 200,000 employers to ignore mental health issues that afflict one in four American adults. Steve Howe, the U.S. chairman of the global accounting firm Ernst & Young, which has more than 6,500 employees in the city, described the lost productivity that can result when an employer fails to recognize and provide support for workers suffering from depression or other mental health conditions.
A study commissioned by the de Blasio administration calculated that mental illness costs New York City about $14 billion annually in lost economic activity – equivalent to 2 percent of the city’s annual economic output. Nationally, mental illness accounts for almost one-third of all long and short-term disability costs, and that number is growing by 10 percent every year.
Today, with leadership from the de Blasio administration, mental health is coming out of the shadows and being recognized as a public health priority in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to tackling the mental health challenge extends from dealing with the afflictions that are impossible to miss among the homeless on our streets all the way to the hidden victims of mental illness in the offices of Wall Street. The city’s new initiatives range from expanded counseling and treatment to public education and employer engagement. There are also new partnerships being formed with health care institutions and nonprofit organizations that address everything from suicide prevention to stress management.
New York City employers are typically at the forefront when it comes to taking care of their talented workforce. The same is true when it comes to best practices in identifying and treating mental health disorders. Our city’s largest employers offer robust inpatient and outpatient care and services for the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse. Most city employers have programs that offer employees and their family members 24/7 telephone support and in-person counseling sessions.
Some companies even have special programs to support people who are reluctant to ask for help. Deloitte, for example, started a program called “REACH Out” to build greater awareness about mental health issues among its workforce. The program provides a guide for employees to identify and help colleagues who may be struggling with mental health issues. Increasingly, employers are stepping up to provide a healthier workplace and limit the negative impact mental illness has on their employees’ lives and their company’s bottom line.
The No. 1 asset that any city or any business has is the quality, acuity and health of its people. De Blasio’s mental health initiatives build on the public health initiatives of the Bloomberg administration, such as anti-smoking and reducing obesity. Together, this proactive city commitment to physical and mental health will help ensure that New York remains the world’s most vibrant and productive city.
Kathryn Wylde is president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.