Given all that is happening in the world right now, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know that this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year’s focus is “What people with mental illness want you to know.” 

Having dedicated our mission, vision, and care to helping people living with mental illness get better with us, we have accumulated years of experience, wisdom and positive outcomes. We have learned that people living with mental illness have the same kinds of desires and goals as everyone else, they deserve the same respect that every human being is entitled to, and with help their lives improve. 

People living with mental illness work hard to debunk cultural, racial, and societal myths, misconceptions, and bias. People living with mental illness challenge our stereotypes. Our most noble act is to “see” the person not the label of mental illness. 

At ICL, we have continued to help more than 10,000 people – all unique individuals — get better despite the pandemic. Since March 15, we have placed 135 clients in safe, quality housing; provided 2,240 clients with care management; and conducted 53,976 telehealth visits with clients. It has taken all 1,200 staff, from housekeepers to social workers to accountants, to pull this off.  

But in some ways, the hard work has just begun. The trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated for the world that people living with mental illness are not alone. Our overall health and well-being are uniquely connected to our mental health, and trauma is part of the human condition.

Some of the national statistics on our collective trauma are staggering:  

— In July, 53% of adults said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic – up from 32% in March 

— More than 1 in 3 adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic. In 2019, it was 1 in 10. 

— 40 states have reported an increase in opioid deaths.  

209,000 people have died, and many more have lost their jobs. In New York City, more than 23,000 people have died, unemployment has been as high as 20%, and in April, 68,000 residents applied for SNAP benefits — the biggest one-month surge since the food stamp program began in the Great Depression. 

And yet, as Jerry Ramos always says, we’re still here. And our work is more important than ever. 

Mental Illness Awareness Week inspires us to honor all humanity, make a place for all in the community, continue to come together to deliver care, and advocate for our clients. It reminds us that our mental health is equally important and to intentionally take care of ourselves and our loved ones. 

Thank you for the heroic work you’ve been doing for the 30 weeks of this pandemic, and every week of the year, to help all of our clients get better.

David Woodlock