Everything You Need to Know About Westchester’s Green Light Law

Everything You Need to Know About Westchester's Green Light Law

Westchester’s Green Light Law

Westchester County Government and their Mobile Crisis Response Teams (MCRT) recently announced a new law signed by Governor Kathy Hochul. The Green Light Law allows mobile crisis response teams, staffed by trained experts, to address mental and behavioral health emergencies. This includes the use of flashing green lights to signal the response to these incidents.

Using flashing green lights via the Green Light Law ensures that drivers will yield the right of way. This can ensure that they arrive at the scene of the incident quickly and safely.

Signed in December 2023, the Green Light Law is a crucial step in addressing mental health concerns in the County. Additionally, the Green Light Law will be a statewide bill in New York State.

To learn more, we spoke with John McGeehan, LCSW Founder and CEO of The Dorm, a young adult mental health treatment program IOP. Below, he shares more about the state of mental health in young people and the new Green Light Law.

Westchester Family: Tell us more about Westchester’s Green Light Law and how it can help with mental health?

John, McGeehan: The Green Light Law will enable members of Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) trained in behavioral health emergencies to install flashing green lights in their vehicles. This can alert other drivers they are on the way to a mental or behavioral health emergency.

The hope is that this signaling system allows these teams to respond more expeditiously, safely and effectively. Additionally, it sends a message that mental health emergencies are important. Seconds matter and can save lives!

Similar to the 988 Suicide Crisis Hotline number roll-out in 2022, this initiative communicates that there needs to be a change in how we respond to mental health emergencies. This includes a shift away from law enforcement first-response. The hope of avoiding the criminalization and stigmatization of mental illness and related shame/trauma that can come with it.

There is a concerning history indicating that individuals with untreated mental illness. They are more likely to face fatal encounters with law enforcement when it is the first-response. This change emphasizes the importance of deploying mental health professionals in these situations. This can provide appropriate, qualified, compassionate care, and support in the face of crisis.

Westchester Family: What is the state of young adult mental health?

John, McGeehan:  Reports show that young adult mental health nationwide is at an all-time low:

  • 1 in 3 (30.6%) young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 experienced a mental, behavioral, or emotional health issue in the past year (SAMHSA, 2021)
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens and young adults, ages 10-34 (CDC, 2022)
  • 25.5% of adults ages 18-24 reported having seriously considered suicide in the past month. Interestingly, this is a higher percentage than any other adult age group (CDC, 2020).

In a Harvard study conducted on young adults, teens, and parents in December 2022, 58% of young adults reported that they lacked “meaning or purpose” in their lives.

The why behind these trends are multifactorial. This is very concerning for young people.

As such, laws that hurt people and don’t protect people are a trauma.

For women: Reproductive rights (overturning Roe v. Wade) – the message and lived experience of women and girls not having agency over their own bodies.

For trans and LGBTQ+ folks: According to a national survey by The Trevor Project, 93% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that they have worried about transgender people being denied access to gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws.

In fact, The ACLU is tracking and mapping 374 anti-LGBTQ laws across the U.S. 85 of these bills impact healthcare. Additionally in 2023, 26 bills limiting access to gender-affirming care was passed into law.

Westchester Family: How has this been changing over the last years?

There is an on-going list of reasons why mental health rages on in young people. Firstly, this includes persistent and systemic racism, gun violence, police violence, inflation and economic stress. Secondly, there’s lack of resources and access. Finally, there’s the rise in anti-semitetism, the horrors of the unfolding war in Gaza, impact of social media and technology and concerns around growing isolation and loneliness. The list goes on.

Westchester Family: Why do you think mental health reform is needed?

This public health crisis is one of the defining issues of our time. We need professionals who understand behavioral health and can help in an affirming, effective way. Additionally, reform needs to prioritize community-based support. This includes teams that understand context, culture and can continue to offer sustained support after an immediate crisis has passed.

Westchester Family: How can parents/caregivers support their kids who are experiencing these challenges?

John, McGeehan:  Even as a parent/caregiver of a young adult, there is a lot that can be done to support. This includes open communication, empathy, and creating a supportive environment.

A few things we recommend:

  • Encourage open and non-judgmental conversations about feelings and experiences. Do all you can to be an active listener. Show genuine interest and curiosity in your young adult’s interests, needs and concerns. Finally, ask clarifying questions when you think you might need more information.
  • Model and encourage habits of self-care and connection to others. Firstly, modeling at every age is important. Additionally, when done by a trusted and respected adult, it communicates that mental health is important. Finally, this is a strength; not a weakness.
  • Monitor any changes in behaviors, moods and language. Additionally, be proactive when professional help is needed. Plus, offer support when finding someone help when (and if) it’s necessary.

Westchester Family: In what ways does The Dorm support/aid young people with mental health issues? What kind of services and treatments do you offer?

John, McGeehan: At The Dorm we offer affirming, inclusive and interdisciplinary intensive outpatient programming (IOP) for young adults (ages 18-30) with primary mental health diagnoses. Thus, what sets us apart is flexible, individualized focus on serving high-acuity and clinically-complex individuals. In addition, this is within community settings, ensuring that young people are able to receive exceptional care. This also allows them to remaining connected to their communities and daily lives. Additionally, it allows them to work towards building lives of independence, resilience, and empowerment.

Our services and treatments are comprehensive and wrap-around. In addition, this includes evidence-based individual therapy and clinical coaching. This includes a strong emphasis on skill-building work, group therapy, and nutritional support provided by registered dietitians. Additionally, we offer a holistic approach to health and wellness. This includes immersive community engagement to support the overall well-being of our clients.

Our goal is to provide a personalized and effective treatment experience. This helps young people navigate their mental health challenges, develop essential skills, and ultimately lead fulfilling, purposeful lives. It is a source of great pride for us to witness these transformative journeys in real-time.

Currently, 87% of our client alumni are actively engaged in full-time education, or gainfully employed, living out their dreams and thriving.

For additional information about the Green Light Law, click here.