July 25, 2024


Extraordinary care

Op-ed: New York City needs expanded access to affordable, high-quality behavioral health services

Three approaches

More than 30% of the New Yorkers who say they have been diagnosed with mental illness believe they can’t afford care—and they may be right. Most of the city’s behavioral health providers are in Manhattan, and many do not accept insurance. More than 84% of psychologists in the city identify as white, compared with only 43% of their potential patients. In our survey in November 2021, more than half of Black and Asian respondents said they expected to face challenges getting help if they were to have a behavioral health crisis, compared with 37% of white respondents.

New York is well positioned to address these disparities. The city’s many forward-thinking public, social and private stakeholders can work together to innovate and increase equitable access to behavioral health resources. Collaborative leadership at the city, state and federal levels could help. They can consider at least three approaches to help close gaps in access:

1. Expand behavioral health services to meet the needs of diverse populations.

Public and private policymakers could help nonspecialists practice at the “top of their licenses,” especially among providers in underrepresented communities who speak languages other than English; provide more services in underserved neighborhoods; and expand telehealth to meet the needs of people with lower access.

2. Tailor services more closely to the needs of diverse populations.

Policymakers and providers should consider diverse needs as they expand the supply of behavioral health services. The city could provide public, social and private organizations with insights to help providers tailor services accordingly.

3. Foster and strengthen community prevention.

Besides giving employees access to decent health insurance, many employers can help reduce stigma in the workplace and create work environments that support workforce mental health, such as by helping employees understand the signs of psychological distress and find treatment.

With concerted action, the city can expand access to high-quality, fit-for-purpose and affordable behavioral health care, making the country’s largest metropolis healthier, safer, more prosperous and more equitable.

Carlos Pardo Martin and Rens van den Broek are partners in McKinsey & Company’s New York office.