NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — New Orleans City Council Member Joe Giarrusso lead the charge at Thursday’s city council meeting, highlighting mental health throughout the Crescent City.

It’s an issue he holds close to his heart. Ten years ago his father fell victim to mental health issues, ultimately taking his own life.

“This is an incredibly hard conversation and certainly having it publicly is not easy,” Giarrusso told WGNO’s Amy Russo. “My sister called and said I think dad shot himself.. and first thought I had was that is not right, he’s the last person that would do that. Then my mom called and she said the same thing.”

Giarrusso is now using the tragedy to pave the way for help. During Thursday’s council meeting, more than a dozen mental health stakeholders helped identify resources within the city as well as the areas that need improvements.

“Increased access to care, improved economic stability, and ensure community safety,” said Michael Williams with the United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

Health Department Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno released some startling pre-pandemic statistics as well. The stats come straight from New Orleans.

“Nearly 23,000 adults and 700 adolescents had a major depressive episode – over 17,000 adults and adolescents had thoughts of suicide,” said Dr. Avegno.

Giarrusso says Vice President JP Morrell is creating a cultural grant which would allocate money to each city council member.

Giarrusso plans on giving $150,000 of his to a mental health collaborative with the United Way and Nola Public Schools.

“I want to make that public commitment,” said Giarrusso.

There are several mental health resources in New Orleans, including NAMI and UNITY.

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