Our Approach

The Academy puts behavioral health tools into the hands of community-based organizations and other social service providers who have meaningful opportunities to start conversations and provide help.

The Need

In New York City and throughout the U.S., a fraction of people experiencing treatable mental or behavioral health conditions receive effective care. Those who do may suffer with symptoms for months or years before accessing treatment, causing hardships for individuals, families, and communities.

Treatment barriers, treatment quality, and treatment outcomes are often significantly worse for people of color, people with low incomes, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and others who disproportionately experience obstacles and discrimination inside and outside of behavioral health systems. Everyone deserves access to timely, effective, and affirming care.

Poor mental or behavioral health can increase risk for – and make it more difficult to manage – other social, economic, and health challenges.

The Response

The Academy engages social service providers and the communities they serve to help reimagine what care means, where care happens, and who provides it. We recognize that everyone has a role to play in building better behavioral health. Community-based organizations (CBOs) and other social service providers are especially well positioned to help close treatment gaps in communities most impacted by racism and other structural inequalities.

The Academy builds on Connections to Care (C2C), a promising model for new collaborations and care pathways between CBOs and behavioral health providers in NYC. Working with social service providers, we advance relevant, accessible, and effective behavioral health support where people already live, work, learn, play, and seek help.

We prioritize capacity building in the 33 neighborhoods identified by the New York City Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity (TRIE) as most impacted by COVID-19 or experiencing high rates of health and other socioeconomic disparities.

Why social service providers?

Social service providers are uniquely positioned to address behavioral health in the context of the whole person and community.

People come to social services in times of crisis or hardship, during significant life transitions, to pursue important goals or access critical supports, or to find community. These providers already address urgent social and economic needs and see the personal and communal impacts of structural inequality. Their relationships with community members offer important opportunities to address behavioral health.

The Academy builds on evidence from task-sharing, integrated care, and other promising approaches demonstrating that people who may not consider themselves behavioral health specialists can provide effective help, when they receive the right training and supports. In taking on new behavioral health skills and roles, these helpers extend access to care, improve the quality of care, and expand our knowledge about what works.

Addressing behavioral health also helps social service providers meet needs they already see and realize their missions. Staff at CBOs and City and State agencies encounter a range of behavioral health issues in their everyday work. These can include common mental health conditions, severe stress, trauma, grief, harms related to substance use, serious mental illness, suicidality, and more. They deserve knowledge, skills, and supports to respond effectively, while caring for their own wellbeing.

The Academy strengthens the capacity of social service providers to:

  • Normalize compassionate conversations about behavioral health
  • Provide affirming, trauma-informed services that support healing and growth
  • Proactively identify and respond to signs of mental health conditions or distress, reducing the burden on individuals or families to initiate help
  • Deliver evidence-supported and culturally responsive prevention, health promotion, or treatment strategies
  • Acknowledge experiences of poverty, racism, or discrimination and their impacts
  • Make more effective referrals to clinicians, where needed
  • Collaborate with behavioral health specialists to strengthen care networks and approaches