What's Community Got to Do with It?

This past week Chirlane McCray, the wife of NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, announced plans to initiate a comprehensive review on mental health issues in New York City. The focus would be on identifying the mental health needs of our communities as well as the disparities in therapeutic care that are available to people. These are very important issues. We welcome this invitation to support an in-depth conversation with all New Yorkers.

As the director of a community therapy center in Brooklyn for over thirty years, the Social Therapy Group has been committed to creating conversations in our local communities as well as our international community on a variety of issues regarding emotional growth and development. Our staff of committed social activists, mental health professionals and volunteers have spent many hours on street corners interviewing our communities about what they think would support the mental health of the people in their neighborhoods. I would like to share some of that with you in support of this new initiative.

As social therapists, along with other progressive therapists, we know that issues of mental health have everything to do with the social/cultural realities of how we live our lives together. How we feel is not in our heads. We think that community building is the collective, humanistic activity of creating something new together!

The questions that we have added to the ongoing dialogue on mental health are:

How do we create our mental health together?

Can building community impact our emotional well being? If so, how?

Here’s an excerpt of what people had to say about the role of community building and mental health when interviewed at Atlantic Antic, one of Brooklyn’s largest street fairs:

“Getting involved with something is so important. It combats gentrification. Reaching out to others and having a space where they can reach out to you. That would make us all feel better.”

“Community is the only context we have to learn from people other than ourselves and families. Building community is critical.”

“Diversity matters to me. I can learn how to be caring and go beyond myself as I am walking down the street.”

“Community allows us to have support systems in times of crisis and need. It breaks isolation and can produce healthier people.”

“Building community is building mental health. You feel more connected, less alone. You have more resources.”

“Building community combats stereotypes.”

“Getting involved in your community gives experience to the inexperienced, makes us feel helpful and increases our self esteem.”

“If you see things that aren’t right, you are more likely to feel you can do something about it if you build community.”

What questions would you like add to the call for dialogue on mental health?