As COVID-19 continues to strain health systems around the country, local leaders are trying to address the mental health needs of people in their communities.
Why it matters: Unlike the physical maladies the pandemic causes, its psychological toll is often invisible, and stress tends to have a cumulative effect that may not be apparent until months after the trauma of this period.
Between the lines: Stress becomes traumatic when people face uncontrollable and unpredictable events that are continually changing and require constant adaptation.
"When people experience stress, we naturally want to escape it, usually by finding something that feels familiar, comforting, and routine. COVID-19 is unique because it is not only adding stress to our lives, but has also taken away predictable outlets for dealing with that stress."— Madison, Wisconsin, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in a recent blog post
What's happening: Mayors and local public health officials have launched initiatives to support their communities' most vulnerable residents — and are openly talking about their own struggles.
In Coral Springs, Florida, Mayor Scott Brook launched the nonprofit Mental Wellness Networking Alliance in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. It started with monthly in-person meetings where licensed counselors lead sessions on anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. When the coronavirus pandemic kept people at home, Brook shifted to weekly virtual meetings held via Zoom and Facebook Live.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, during daily press briefings, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird shares her own family's experience with the added strain, as well her own self-care routine, including daily runs, per the Lincoln Journal Star.
In Topeka, Kansas, Mayor Michelle De La Isla instituted a "warmline" system (as opposed to a hotline) to connect volunteers with lonely residents who need to talk to someone. She's read books to children via Facebook.
The big picture: Local leaders should use their pulpits to share emotional connections with residents and create a sense of belonging, said Melissa Whitson, associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven, who specializes in community psychology and trauma.
What to watch: The extent of mental health problems is still unknown, but early surveys lead researchers to expect increases in child abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse as family stress mounts.