The months of fear, isolation, and deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have created a mental health emergency in our towns and cities. The trauma of the pandemic — along with economic uncertainty, social unrest, and environmental catastrophes — is affecting our emotional well-being.
If you cannot sleep at night, you’re not alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found elevated levels of adverse mental health conditions, substance use, and suicidal ideation among adults in June of this year. Symptoms of anxiety disorder were three times higher than those reported at the same time in 2019 (25.5 percent versus 8.1 percent). The prevalence of depressive disorder was four times higher than reported in the second quarter of 2019 (24.3 percent versus 6.5 percent).
The numbers are staggering. The Quality Institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign (MWC), meanwhile, surveyed New Jersey mayors and found they are deeply concerned about the mental health of their residents. They recognize that social distancing, blurring of work and home boundaries, and the overall atmosphere of uncertainty is taking an enormous toll. People suffer when a hug or even a handshake brings more fear than comfort.
The MWC has long supported wellness initiatives in New Jersey communities, and we know that mayors and other local leaders can be powerful champions of community health. Mayors need our support now more than ever as they work to support the mental health of their residents during the pandemic.
That is why we’re starting the Mayors Wellness Campaign Mental Health Work Group, and we’re seeking input from you, our members. We need your leadership, expertise, and commitment. The goals of our Work Group will be to:
- Identify strategies for community leaders to address the mental health needs in their communities.
- Identify existing resources for residents to access mental health support and services.
- Strengthen relationships between community leaders and providers of physical and mental health and social services.
- Share and create resources to address residents’ mental health needs.
- Amplify community conversations on mental health and reduce stigma.
The Quality Institute, for instance, is providing community leaders with an eight-hour course in Mental Health First Aid, which educates participants about how to help someone in crisis and non-crisis situations. Mental Health First Aid covers depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, substance use disorders, and also teaches about recovery and resiliency. The training can now be done virtually.
But there is so much more we need to do. Our members provide us with rich resources. Already signed up for the Work Group is Daniel Finch, MD, Chief Medical Officer at CarePlus NJ, a member of the Quality Institute’s Provider Council. Dr. Finch is a passionate mental health advocate, and you can read about his work in the Take Five Interview in the September 17th edition of our newsletter.
In the coming weeks, I will be reaching out to members that we hope will join our Work Group. We are focusing on supporting New Jersey communities, but we also will explore policy changes that may be necessary to improving access to care. Our Work Groups are highly effective in providing resources to the community and in creating new policies, regulations, and laws. I am thinking right now of our Health Care Reform Work Group as well as our Medicaid Policy Center. Both created real change that improved health care access, quality, and affordability.
Please reach out to me if you are interested in joining, or learning more about, our Mayors Wellness Campaign Mental Health Work Group. Right now, we need to support each other and our communities.