A significant decrease in the state's mental health-related workforce and availability of care has most deeply affected marginalized communities, including women and people of color, according to a new report by Cornell University.

The privatization of the mental health workforce in New York helped lead to a sharp decline in the state's mental health workforce in the public sector and corresponding capacity of care between 1990 and 2021, per the analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Samples by Cornell ILR Worker Institute researchers.

"The ongoing privatization of mental health work in New York is ... likely to place downward pressure on wages in mental health–related industries," according to the report.

The decline has had disproportionate impacts on women, people of color and working-class New Yorkers — including mental health workers, their families and communities. The jobs lost were primarily held by women and people of color.

“This report backs up what PEF has said for years – that skilled state professionals provide the most compassionate, effective, and efficient care for their fellow New Yorkers,” state Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence said. 

PEF represents mental healthcare workers across the state.

“With mental health concerns at an all-time high, now is the time to invest more, not less, in the state’s mental health workforce," Merrill added.

Funding to support state government employees has decreased across all state agencies for years, increasing the work outsourced to private contractors and forcing localities to cut or limit services to stay afloat, including the number of positions in the public sector.

The state must invest in its employees and public sector mental health facilities to ensure the creation of good-paying union jobs for workers of all skill and education levels for New Yorkers from all racial-ethnic backgrounds. 

Additional mental health capacity, including specialized providers and facilities, would drive down the overall suicide rate and incidents of a person needing to be hospitalized for self-harm, according to the report.

“We know that decades of austerity measures and privatization have reduced funding for public sector employees across all agencies in New York state," said Anne Marie Brady, research director at Cornell-ILR Worker Institute who authored the report. "...these changes have resulted in a loss of public sector jobs. The mental healthcare sector exemplifies this trend, as policymakers’ goals of reducing public spending and healthcare costs have intersected with changing models of care provision, ultimately shrinking the public sector mental healthcare workforce, which as our analysis demonstrates, has adversely affected public sector workers’ wages and employment outcomes.”

The data show these trends will continue and exacerbate racial, gender and economic inequality across the state without significant reinvestment to help rebuild the mental health workforce in the public sector.

"The diminishing of the state’s public mental healthcare sector and its lack of diversity is to our demise," said the Rev. Nicolle D. Jean-Simon, president of Schenectady's NAACP branch. "We need to address this immediately before things get worse."