New York's largest public workers union on Monday called for expanded treatment options for mental health services as public health advocates worry anxiety and depression are on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Civil Service Employees Association is making the push as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, but also weeks after lawmakers approved a $212 billion state budget that reduced the number of state-operated treatment beds in New York, a move the union opposed.
“Our state legislators shamefully put people’s lives on the line when they voted to pass a budget cutting treatment beds. New Yorkers should rise up and demand more mental health services, not less,” CSEA President Mary Sullivan said.
The pandemic has led to a spike in joblessness, upended daily life and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, with many more hospitalized due to the coronavirus. The union pointed to research from the New York State Health Foundation that found 37% of adults in New York reported being in poor mental health during the pandemic by October of last year.
The toll was especially heavy on low-income people and people of color, whose lives and jobs were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“The pandemic created an increase in the need for mental health care in our state,” Sullivan said. “New Yorkers endured so many hardships. People lost their loved ones, their jobs, their homes. The stress, anxiety and depression induced from this crisis and the isolation it caused is real and cannot be ignored.”
CSEA represents workers at agencies like the Office of Mental Health, as well as county mental health departments.
“This past year more than ever, we recognize the dedication and sacrifice of the mental health workers who provided lifesaving treatment for so many New Yorkers during the pandemic. They bravely stepped up, often putting themselves and their families at risk to make sure needed treatment and care was available,” Sullivan said. “CSEA encourages people in our communities across the state to join us during Mental Health Awareness Month in acknowledging those who care for some of our most vulnerable loved ones and demanding more treatment options.”