Tackling New Orleans’ Mental Health Crisis Through Collaboration

A new effort to address New Orleans’ mental health crisis is counting on collaboration to turn the tide and ensure residents get the care they need.

Mental health affects every part of our personal lives and is tied to the strength of our community. Yet statistics show many New Orleanians face significant mental health challenges – suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 in our area, and an estimated 23,000 adults in New Orleans had a major depressive episode in the past year. (New Orleans Health Department)

Our city’s behavioral health providers work tirelessly to support as many residents as possible, but they can’t keep up. 

Recognizing the need to address this crisis in a coordinated way, New Orleans City Councilmember Joe Giarrusso launched the New Orleans Mental Health Collaborative (MHC) in September 2022 to identify and fill gaps in mental health care access across the city. 

Councilmember Giarrusso called on United Way of Southeast Louisiana to serve as the backbone organizer for the collaborative, and we are excited to share updates on the MHC’s progress.

In less than a year, the MHC has selected co-chairs, recruited a diverse Steering Committee, identified areas of focus, and secured a $1.9 million federal grant.

  • Co-Chairs: Two strong local leaders, Councilmember Giarrusso and Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, Executive & Medical Director of Metropolitan Human Services District, stepped up to guide the collaborative as co-chairs.
  • Steering Committee: The mental health crisis is a complicated issue with many driving factors and affected communities. The MHC intentionally recruited individuals with a range of professional expertise and lived experience for the collaborative’s steering committee. This group is tasked with establishing a common vision and providing direction for the MHC.
  • Areas of Focus: The MHC steering committee identified coordination of care as the overall focus for the collaborative. This includes three sub-areas: access to care, capacity building, and needs assessment. 
  • New Federal Grant Funding: Just three months after forming, the MHC was awarded a $1.9 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to increase trauma-informed community behavioral health resources and services for young people. This project focuses on supporting youth and families living in communities with chronic poverty - a population known to experience high rates of collective trauma and violence.

What’s next? With a solid foundation in place, the MHC is hiring full-time staff to continue moving the work forward. We will welcome the MHC’s first full-time director on June 1 and are hiring additional support positions. The collaborative will also form advisory committees with local experts on each area of focus.

No one organization can solve the mental health crisis. But together, we can create change at the systems-level and make sure residents can get the help they need. I am grateful for every individual and organization that has joined the MHC and look forward to sharing more impact updates with you.
Living United, 

Melisse Meza
Vice President of Community Impact - Health & Fund Distribution
United Way of Southeast Louisiana