BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A new Baltimore city initiative will help residents deal with the stress and trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.
Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said the COVID-19 Coordinated Mental Health Recovery Effort, lead by City Councilman Zeke Cohen, will help the city heal as it begins its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is essential that we provide residents the resources to cope and recover during this critical time,” Young said. “We understand trauma is real in our city and we will address it head-on because that is the only way we can truly take the initiative to seek expand access to mental health resources, map connecting institutions, providing resources for healing and provide pathways for individuals to get involved and support each other and now bring up constantly calling to talk more about the initiative.”
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This pandemic has physical threats to our health, but Cohen said there are also mental health impacts.
“We know from previous pandemics that the mental health impacts can be up to 25 times more debilitating than the physical health impacts,” he said. “And we are seeing that here in Baltimore, a city already beset by trauma, already struggling with violence, already dealing with harsh segregation – we are seeing firsthand the mental health impacts of this pandemic. We see it for seniors who are stuck and isolated, who may be living in nursing homes with other seniors where they fear getting the virus. We see it with children who are out of school, who may lack the structure that they had during regular times.”
One statistic he said remains with him: in the last three months, reports of child abuse have dropped dramatically, about a third of the reports for this same period in 2019.
“But we know that child abuse is not down. In fact, it’s up,” Cohen said. “We know that children who are stuck in homes often don’t call 911.”
“People who have been out of work who have lost their sense of self-worth and dignity,” Cohen said.
“Mental health is too often stigmatized. I see it myself in my own family. I feel it myself as I go through waves, I’m up, I’m down,” Cohen said. “In this moment it’s been particularly tough, but we need to have these conversations out loud. We need to be honest with ourselves about what we are dealing with.”
The new initiative will help identify where people can get help and what services those groups offer, whether a house of worship, nonprofit or city-run agency.
“I feel very strongly that this initiative that we are starting today with everybody’s participation and engagement will get us to that destination that we are hoping for,” said Dr. Melissa Buckley, a faculty member at Coppin State who’s joining the initiative. “We are all dealing with the realities of our own mental health being taxed, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. And so we have to be proactive at engaging together shoulder-to-shoulder with social distancing as community members to work towards this mental health recovery.”
Pastor Jim Hamilton of Church on the Square in Canton said he noticed early on some of the psychological impacts coronavirus has had on the community.
The elderly population, who are disproportionately at risk for coronavirus, are also at risk for the mental health impacts. That group used libraries, senior centers and other social groups to connect with people in their circle and find support. Now they’re isolated and alone.
“Some of my members enumerated the days they have physically touched another human being and how that impacts us in our body and our soul,” Hamilton said. “They’re hearing that there is an acceptable number of losses and that has an impact on us.”
One service is the Baltimore Neighbors Network will help connect trained volunteers with neighbors who want a connection through calls and emails.