February 1, 2000
To the Citizens of New York:
The story of mental health and mental illness in New York is a compelling and critical part of our history as New Yorkers, but significant elements of that history are in danger of being lost. There is little information being saved that reflectsnow or from the pastthe lives of people and families coping with mental illness as well as the social workers, medical personnel, and support groups who provide services and assistance. Documentation of state, local, private and community institutions, research and treatment, and policy and legislation related to mental health and illness is similarly endangered. Much of this vital reservoir of information is being lost or destroyed, mostly from neglect, lack of understanding, or the absence of resources to save what needs saving. If unchecked, this deterioration will result in a shallow and uneven historical record that will leave critical parts of our history unknowable and untold.
The State Archives and Records Administration of the New York State Education Department has begun a statewide initiative, called Rediscovering New York History and Culture, that is working to ensure the equitable and comprehensive documentation and accessibility of all of New Yorks extraordinarily rich history and culture. As a critical part of that initiative, the New York Heritage Documentation Project is developing and testing an approach to documentation planning that will eventually help all sectors of New York's peoples and organizations find their important stories recorded in the history of New York.
The first topic area to be addressed in this ambitious project is the field of mental health and mental illness. The State Archives is working with people from many sectors of the community concerned with mental healththe people who create, care for, use, and are the subjects of historical recordsto identify the issues, people, organizations, and events that are most critical to document in New York. The project will work to protect and preserve some of the most important materials, and it will raise public awareness of the value of an equitable and inclusive historical record of the field of mental health and illness.
The history of all New Yorkers must be preserved and made accessible. I urge all New Yorkers to join in the effort to rediscover New York's history and culture.
Richard P. Mills
Commissioner of Education