Religious leaders join forces to raise awareness about mental health

Religious leaders are joining the first lady of New York City to raise awareness about mental health issues.

There were hundreds of special services on Sunday, including one at Rikers Island.

Religious services usually focus on spiritual health, but now a ground-breaking effort by New York City’s first lady is using the power of the pulpit to spread mental health awareness.

The chapel on Rikers Island was the setting for an unprecedented gathering of religious leaders as part of the mental health weekend of faith organized by New York’s first lady Chirlane McCray.

"We’ve engaged a thousand houses of worship in New York City and a thousand outside New York City. 40 cities are participating like San Jose and Philadelphia, all these clergy members are talking to their congregations about mental illness and addiction," said McCray.

The congregation also included inmates, medical and mental health staff, as well as correction officers. The message was that the mental health issue affects everyone, even those in charge...

"They work long hours under very difficult conditions this community partnership will strengthen the network for both inmates and staff," said Chief Hazel Jennings, of the NYC Department of Correction.

The interfaith group represented many religions, including leaders from Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim faiths.

"We pray your spirit will flow through Rikers Island a spirit of forgiveness, healing and hope," said Imam Souleimane Konate.

"We are humans, and our soul knows suffering and our soul knows hope," said Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie.

"In the Christian community, we value the importance of the renewal of the mind," said Minister Rohann Wellington of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The first lady told the congregation that 1 in 5 New Yorkers suffer from mental health and addiction issues. Access to help is at the core of her Thrive NYC initiative, which features 54 different programs. She believes faith based leaders can help those in need and help them overcome the reluctance to ask for assistance.

"Clergy members are trusted; people will go to them with their problems, mental distress or crisis. We know that if clergy members get up in front of their congregations....will listen to them," said McCray

One barrier to getting mental health help has been the cost, but the city has a toll free number where anyone can get access to services. It's 1-888-NYC-WELL.