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June 2009

Financially Strained and Emotionally Stressed and in Need of Help

A Grant from The Trust has helped the Mental Health Association train other grantees to help New Yorkers through the economic crisis.

When people are faced with foreclosure, losing a job, or applying for food stamps—especially for the first time—life can feel unfair and overwhelming, causing stress, shame, irritability, and depression. “People are literally losing sleep as a result of the economic crisis,” says Giselle Stolper, executive director of the Mental Health Association of New York City. “The staff of the City’s social service agencies are seeing more people walk through their doors under severe emotional stress; some are even at increased risk of suicide.”

With a $175,000 grant in 2009, The Mental Health Association is training the staffs of eight social service organizations to help their clients combat despair and find mental health professionals. These groups—the Bridge Fund of New York, Cancer Care, City Harvest, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Food Bank for New York City, Legal Services NYC, New York City Financial Network Action Consortium, and United Neighborhood Houses of New York—received Trust grants in February to help them face the surge of people needing their services. “Many people would never seek out emotional help on their own, so it’s important that they are able to get basic help and referrals for counseling when they go to a food kitchen or to get help fighting eviction,” says Joyce Bove, vice president for programs and special projects at The Trust.

In one instance, a husband and wife with two kids both lost their jobs, and by the time they found new employment they had fallen behind on their rent. When they approached the Bridge Fund for help, they had already been evicted and were living in their car. “When they came to us, it was almost as if we needed to provide marriage counseling; they were angry at each other and angry at then system,” says Mary Toledo, director of the Bridge Fund. “We are seeing a lot of people who have never experienced this type of adversity, so we do a lot of hand-holding. The training from the Mental Health Association will be good for the client and good for the staff. It will help staff be more productive and more effective as they deal with an increased workload.” Many clients will be referred to LifeNet, the Mental Health Association’s 24-hour hotline, where they can talk with mental health experts right away.

The Mental Health Association has become a leader in dealing with large-scale emotional health crises. Ms. Stolper adds, “We have taken the lessons learned from our work after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and crafted a response to the current economic crisis that gives frontline service providers the tools they need to understand, assess, and respond more effectively and sensitively to clients’ emotional distress.”

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