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A Day in the Life: Psychiatrist Tackles Mental Health Crisis on NYC Streets


As the pandemic stretches into its second year, the need for mental health services has only heightened. On the streets of New York City, those who treat patients in need of life-saving care are presented with several challenges.

Dr. Jeanie Tse, chief medical officer of the Institute for Community Living, spends her day in East New York, helping people wherever they are to ensure they get the help they need. Critical preventions from 1,000 teams throughout the state help turn lives around, but advocates say more needs to be done.

Oswald Voglezon and Marie Augustine of Brooklyn are among the people Tse and her team of 10 people have helped. There are a total of six teams in the area.

“I wanted to commit suicide but I’m improving, you know, with their help,” Voglezon told NBC New York.

Augustine had a bad morning on Thursday, wanting to hurt herself. ACT staff kept her calm. “The ACT team gave me a lot of support. They’re always there for me when I feel down,” she said.

In a city of more than 8.4 million people, nearly 2.6 of them in the borough alone, it can be difficult to get immediate and low-cost help. Early intervention is crucial, Tse says, adding that there’s evidence that services her team provides can decrease ER and hospital utilization by two-thirds for the people that they serve.

“I think there are a lot of people who can’t access care right now and when they can’t access care, they get more ill. Sometimes bad outcomes happen,” Tse said.

Mental illness is in the forefront in the five boroughs, evident in recent subway violence and random attacks that have led to calls for more police and mental health services.

Amy Dorin, the CEO of Coalition for Behavioral Health, says that’s only a start. Staffing and sufficient funding are also critical.

“It’s a sector that struggles because we need sufficient funding to make sure we can do the work that we know how to do,” Dorin said.

Nevertheless, doctors are still out there and celebrating small victories. The doctor and her team meet with clients twice a week. Sometimes, the main challenge is finding the person who needs help the most.

Albert Chamblee of Bed-Stuy says Tse’s guidance helped his girlfriend.

If there were more people like Tse, “maybe we wouldn’t have as many problems,” Chamblee said.

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About Institute for Community Living

It is Institute for Community Living’s (ICL) mission to help New Yorkers with behavioral health challenges live healthy and fulfilling lives by providing comprehensive housing, health care, and recovery services. We take a trauma-informed approach—meeting the people we serve wherever they are, working together to support them in achieving their goals.

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