October is here! Summer has officially come to an end, and Fall is in full-swing. This letter features several contributions from OnTrackNY participants and graduates, as well introductions from a few new members to the OnTrackNY central team, and an update about our most recent OnTrackNY films. Lastly, check out the updates column for in-formation about the new OnTrackNY Family Council, as well as our two Youth Council groups.
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Q: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: Hi, I’m Daffeny. Thanks for sitting down with me! I’m 24 years old, I’m a Haitian- American from Uptown New York, and a recent graduate from Stony Brook University with a major in philosophy.
Q: Can you tell us about when you first started having concerns about your mental health?
A: I left home at 18 to start living on campus at Stony Brook. My first couple of years were great, but I guess I was moving way too quickly, and at some point, my social life kind of burned me out, and I started losing friends. I think by my third year, I noticed I just couldn’t continue and keep up the intense, long hours of studying. I noticed I wasn’t doing it in a healthy way, and I just completely burned out by my fourth year. In my fourth year I just went into a depression—a lot of events happened in short period of time. I stopped going to classes, I was afraid of going out during the day. I was just stuck, I couldn’t function, I was barely eating. I would stop random strangers in front of my building asking them to walk with me to the dining hall because I was scared to go alone. I felt like my senses were heightened, and every small thing felt catastrophic. I couldn’t continue going to school. With the advice of a professor and mentor, I withdrew from university and went back home.
When I moved back home, my symptoms were worse. Parents reached out to some of my relatives, they knew something was different and so they sought medical treatment. I’m impressed that they reached out to New York Presbyterian because I lived there for 20 years and I never knew there were psych resources near where I grew up. I was saved in the nick of time. After two years of treatment I was able to graduate from college.
Q:How did you become a part of the OnTrackNY program?
A: So, I was an involuntary patient at the inpatient clinic at 21 years old, and upon my exit I was admitted to the outpatient unit, and that’s where I met a team of people at OnTrackNY who became a second family. I am at OnTrackNY at Washington Heights and I’ve been a member for almost 2.5 years. They helped me engage in my relationships with my family, personal life, social life and work life. A shout-out to my current and previous psychiatrists, therapists, work and peer specialists!
Q: What has your time in the program been like?
A: My time at OnTrack has been, for one thing, very consistent. I feel like the relationships I have at OnTrack allowed me to kind of own up to my truth. Everyone has been so professional, and it’s a different sense of human understanding. The growth that I’ve gotten from OnTrack, I haven’t seen that happen with any other relationship that I’ve had. I’m more in tune to my decisions. I really respect OnTrack because it’s like I found somewhere where I’m good enough.
Q: When did you join the OnTrackNY Youth Council and What did you hope to accomplish?
A: I think it was a year after I became a patient, so maybe late 2017 or early 2018. I consider myself to be a founding member. So, when I joined youth council, one of the things I learned is that I could leave my legacy. At youth council, we work towards innovation and information. The current members, we all work towards that goal just by providing our own insight. I try to be authentic the whole time. It allows me to be somewhere where I’m true to myself and open. It’s like a workspace for me. I get to do something that I’m good at again.
Q: You are currently finishing up your senior year of college. What has that been like? What are you studying?
A: I’m finishing my fifth year, and getting my BA in philosophy. So, I’m studying the fine arts. One thing I wish I could answer now would be how is arts related to media and technology, that’s one thing I want to see in our schools: creative arts or creativity moving as fast as technology is moving, and being as loved and as influential in our daily lives. People say you go to college to find yourself, and that’s exactly what happened in
the second half of my collegiate career.
Q: You have an interest in food policy, can you speak a bit about your interests?
A: I’ve always had a relationship with food and an interest in food policy. I’ve always been on the other end of it working in the food industry. In my second year of college I traveled to Florida to advocate alongside the Immokalee tribe for fair wages for tomato farmers. It was after my first year of treatment that I started working for an apothecary in Williamsburg where I learned about green/black teas and making vegan food, and making coffee from scratch.
Soon after that I worked for a large food chain called Subway, and spent time learning about the history of food chains in America.
Q: You recently accepted a position with AmeriCorps. How exciting! Can you tell us more about that?
A: My psychiatrist whom I admire professionally, mentioned she did AmeriCorps. I am going to be a City Year AmeriCorps member from 2019-2020 in Buffalo New York, teaching 3rd – 9th graders math and English.
Working with children was not new to me. I’ve worked every summer under SYEP which is the Summer Youth Employment Program, which is a DYCD (Department of Youth and Community Development) funded program. So, I’m really happy about my AmeriCorps placement.
During our recent Downstate Youth Council meeting in June, in accordance with the council’s goal of educating others about psychosis and mental health, the group set out to create a word cloud to describe their experience with mental health and OnTrackNY. This exercise consisted of writing down words that came to mind when participants thought of “Mental Health” and “OnTrackNY.” Members seemed to associate "Mental Health" with more challenging experiences and concerns, while "OnTrackNY" was associated with themes of recovery. The conversations that followed from this exercise were perhaps the most interesting part. Many participants had written down similar words, or found themselves resonating strongly with the words chosen by others. This lead to thought-provoking conversation about member's unique as well as shared experiences with psychosis.
OnTrackNY currently facilitates two different Youth Advisory Councils: one that meets in Upstate New York, and a Downstate group that meets in Midtown, Manhattan.
The Downstate group has been meeting monthly since 2017. Over the course of several months, the group worked collaboratively to come up with a mission statement to express the goals and intent of the group. All meetings and projects the group partakes in are guided by the following mission statement:
The OnTrackNY Youth Council aims to
• Create a community amongst OnTrackNY participants and graduates
• Create a judgement free space among individuals with shared experience where members can openly express themselves
• Educate friends, families, and the public about psychosis and mental health
• Use lived experience to collaborate with OnTrack Central to improve the program and influence policy
The Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, on behalf of New York State, was recently awarded a Healthy Transitions grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) entitled “Promoting Hope and Opportunity for Youth with Early Psychosis.” This clinical grant will enable New York State to expand its culturally competent, recovery-oriented services for young people with early psychosis to two underserved communities in Queens, NYC and northern Westchester. Partner agencies in these two communities will each start a new OnTrackNY team.
One of these teams will be based at the Child Center of New York in Flushing, Queens and the other will be in Peekskill, NY in Northern Westchester at Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS).
Teams will conduct significant outreach and education within the local communities to increase knowledge about early psychosis, help community members and providers know how to identify early signs of psychosis, and facilitate rapid referral into specialized care in order to reduce the duration of untreated psychosis. New York State was awarded a previous Healthy Transitions grant, which is cur- rently in its 5th and final year. The previous grant supported the establishment of OnTrackNY teams in Manhattan (at The Jewish Board) and in Syracuse (at Hutchings Psychiatric Center), as well as re- sources to support the delivery of culturally competent care and the creation of recovery videos and a blog to give voice to OnTrackNY participants and graduates about their experiences.