‘You don’t have to struggle alone’: Queens borough president launches $2 million mental health initiative

Queens mental health
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards launches a new initiative providing free mental health services through community-based organizations across Queens. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 12,000 Queens residents since the spring of 2020 and the struggle to cope with the collective trauma continues to torment survivors.

Recognizing the many intersectional crises facing Queens and their impacts on family wellness, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards on Oct. 11 announced a groundbreaking $2 million partnership with therapy platform BetterHelp to bring free mental health services to Queens families.

“The past few years have been extremely difficult for all of us in Queens, as we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the crises around housing, an economic downturn, food insecurity, racial injustice and more,” Richards said. “To all those struggling, you don’t have to struggle alone. Now, more than ever, we need to support one another. I couldn’t be prouder to partner with BetterHelp to bring its expertise and badly needed therapy services to Queens and the CBOs who uplift so many families every day.”

Announced at Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities’ Corona headquarters one day after World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, the partnership with BetterHelp — the nation’s leading virtual mental health therapy provider — will see up to $2 million worth of the organization’s services split among 10 different community-based organizations from across Queens, including Life Camp in Jamaica, Urban Upbound in Long Island City, Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities in Corona and others.

mental health
The Queens Borough President’s Office announces $2 million in free mental health services for Queens organizations through the telehealth therapy platform Better Health on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

“Our mission is to make therapy accessible to all, and this partnership is a big step in that direction for the Queens community,” BetterHelp President and Founder Alon Matas said. “We’re incredibly honored to partner with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards to make mental health services more accessible to Queens residents and the community-based organizations that support them.”

Each CBO will receive $175,000 worth of services to make available across their networks, with the remaining $250,000 being distributed to constituents at the discretion of the Queens Borough President’s Office.

“We are so pleased to have been chosen to participate in this initiative,” Sunnyside Community Services Executive Director Judy Zangwill said. “COVID-19 has profoundly affected the mental health wellness of the people in our communities, and we applaud Borough President Richards for taking this important step toward addressing the issue.”

Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation President and CEO Kevin Alexander said the new initiative will improve the quality of life for all Queens residents.

“When we think about our communities, in particular low- to moderate-income communities that have traditionally shied away from health and wellness needs due to the misperception that you are weak, when in fact you are strong because the first step is often the hardest step when recognizing you need help,” Alexander said. “Time and time again we have seen when there is a crisis, we collectively downplay the need for mental health and wellness services, and that is why we are excited about the opportunity Queens Borough President Donovan Richards is initiating through a partnership with BetterHelp is offering to communities across Queens.”

The announcement comes just two weeks after Richards hosted his inaugural Queens Wellness Day in Flushing, which saw hundreds of community members participate in meditation and healing sessions, as well as a comprehensive health resource expo.

“Underneath this suit and tie I’m a human being and we are all trying to balance this thing called life. I’m a human being with fears, imperfections and insecurities just like everyone else and I’m proud to say that I sought teletherapy. It’s very important for Black men to speak about this because we have to continue to shed that stigma,” Richards said. “There is a mental health crisis in this country, but starting today we’re attacking that crisis head-on in Queens County.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.