May 13, 2022 - Health

Mayors tackle mental health

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

New programs in cities like New York, Chicago and London aim to combat the rising loneliness, anxiety and unhappiness that COVID-19 has caused.

Why it matters: Pandemic-related emotional problems have been linked to everything from higher crime to a rising teen suicide rate. While it's not clear how much a municipal mental health program can move the needle, a growing number of mayors — flush with pandemic relief funds — are willing to try.

Driving the news: Alarmed by what they see from their front-row seats, "mayors are making investments and working with local nonprofits, businesses and community groups to create new initiatives that will help residents access mental health services and reduce the stigma," Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, writes in Medium.

  • In New York City, an initiative called "Mental Health for All" directs residents to counselors and crisis hotlines.
  • In Chicago, a campaign called "Un[*]Spoken" counsels people about loneliness and helps them find emotional support.
  • London's "Campaign to End Loneliness" encourages people to seek social connections and counteract any lingering feelings of lockdown isolation.

Even smaller municipalities are getting into the act: The mayor of Macon-Bibb, Georgia, introduced "Macon Mental Health Matters," which offers free counseling as well as yoga classes and the like.

  • It's being funded with $600,000 from the CARES Act.
  • Pandemic relief money is also paying for programs in places like California's San Mateo County, where a new "Mental Health First Aid Training" program is "aimed at training residents to help others who may be experiencing a mental health crisis."
  • A similar program in New Jersey "teaches everyday people the warning signs of mental health and substance use disorders as well as ways to offer initial help," said Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, which issued a grant for it.

Where it stands: "In many cities, there simply are not enough mental health professionals to meet the surge in demand they've seen over the past two years," Cochran writes.

  • A poll of 126 U.S. mayors released late last year found that constituents' emotional trauma was the top concern.
  • Some places are encouraging people to use mental health apps to beat back symptoms of depression. Los Angeles County, for instance, made a deal for free services with the meditation app Headspace.

CEOs have some of the same concerns as mayors: Some companies are doubling down on mental health outreach programs for employees, though there's plenty of criticism that Corporate America isn't doing enough.

  • "Chief happiness officer" is an emerging new title at some firms, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Ernst & Young "recently surveyed 5,000 workers in the U.S. and four other countries and found 82% were, or had been, lonely in their jobs," per the Journal.

The bottom line: A good number of mental health campaigns are largely symbolic. But even those — like the designation of May as "Mental Health Awareness Month" — have the power to help people, remove stigma and spur leaders to take action.

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