Panel Discussion on Mental Health Resources

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On June 1, 2023, at the Riverfront Library Community Room A/B from 5:30pm to about 7:30 pm a lively and honest discussion about Mental Health resources, treatments and personal experiences took place. Among the panelists, were Westchester County Commissioner Michael Orth, Department of Community Mental Health; William “Drew” Mullane, PhD, Director of Innovation, Integration and Community Partnerships for WJCS; Audrey McInerney, President NAMI Westchester; Jason Duncan, PhD Founder CBTAAA and Sanity Podcast, Author Suzanne Schwartzberg (pen name Suzanne Renee), Conquering the Undertow: Learning to Breathe Again. The discussion was moderated by Joe Pinion, CEO Pinion Media group and Spanish Language interpretation was available by Olga Gonzalez. The discussion was hosted and organized by Christine Peters, LCSW, LBA, BCBA and sponsored by Mark Parolosi and Eva Sanchez of The Yonkers Ledger. The event was videotaped by Patrick Murphy of New Logical Technology Company.

The event was attended by various community leaders and activists including but not limited to Nicole Benjamin, Westchester Women’s Agenda and Vice President of the Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus; Steve Simpson, Founder of the Lake Avenue Community Association; Maria Alfaro, Founder of Que Paso Latinx; Hector Santiago, Founder Stop and Shake; Donell Keitt-McCall, Project Inspire Yonkers; Delfim Heusler, Yonkers Insider; Shanae Williams, City Councilperson 1st district and Westchester County Legislature Candidate, 16th District; Effie Phillips, Candidate 1st District; Debbie Kozak Candidate Westchester County Legislature, 16th District and Ron Matten, YMCA Board of Directors.

Steve Simpson stated, “It’s about time for this type of discussion in our city. I want to do everything I can to support progress for mental health resources for my neighbors and friends. I’m glad I was able to attend and participate in this intimate conversation about the future of mental health services.”

Some community leaders asked questions going beyond what was highlighted such as Donell Keitt-Mccall’s question about mental health services as an alternative to incarceration to stem the tide of incarceration due to mental illness, and if any progress is being made in this arena. The commissioner talked about slow but steady progress starting with the District Attorney’s office, and reforms coming from that level of the criminal justice system; to divert individuals into the more correct system as a consequence to criminal behavior.

Nicole Benjamin introduced the need for legislation and advocacy to help defeat the mass exodus from the field of mental health services, especially those amongst us who treat vulnerable populations crippled by socioeconomic stressors and the poor wages for professionals.

Perhaps one of the most significant takeaways was the rapid and widespread loss of mental health professionals of color leaving the field due to significant disparities in pay based on job field. This leaves our entire community with a major deficit trying to meet individuals where they are, especially given the needs of our diverse constituencies. The second was highlighted by Suzanne Schwartzberg about mental illness being an insidious disease. Hardly, do we notice as the stressors and turmoil takes over our mind and thoughts. Before we know it any one of us could be in need of mental health services, even without a mental illness present, so please actively and genuinely check in on each other and ask your friends, neighbors and coworkers, “Are you doing okay?”

Though this is just a starting point for a bigger conversation about mental health supports for Yonkers, all of us need to partner with the various systems to make this a functional, accountable system for us.

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