NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk citizens need to help each other with the distress caused by COVID-19, community leaders said in a Friday press conference.
A recent survey revealed “sobering statistics” – 62% of respondents, “way more than half,” reported experiencing psychological distress, said Margaret Watt, Prevention Director at Positive Directions – The Center for Prevention and Counseling. Of those, 29% described moderate or severe symptoms.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
Watt said the Positive Directions survey also showed:
- 40% of Norwalk parents reported they were concerned about depression in their children
- 18% of adults said they had been using alcohol more during the pandemic
- 22% of respondents said that they had worse access to mental health services than before the pandemic
“These statistics show why it’s so important for us to have open conversations about mental health,” Watt said. “There is no shame in saying that you’re anxious that you’re depressed. Literally, literally, more than half of us are right now. Okay, so let’s talk about it.”
The City Hall event was a follow-up to a town hall hosted Thursday by Mayor Harry Rilling and Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels. Rilling declared May to be Mental Health Awareness Month in Norwalk and suggested that everyone needs to become aware of how their friends and family members are feeling, “so that when the time arises, you’ll be prepared to help them. And when you help them. You’re helping yourself because that’s really what we’re all about.”
“Mental health or brain health as I like to refer to it impacts every one of us,” Norwalk ACTS Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Barahona said. “I’m a social worker, myself, and I’ve seen the toll this pandemic has taken on members of my own family, including myself, including my husband, who’s a high school teacher locally. Mental health is not only about serious mental illness or significant trauma, it’s about the day to day stress and anxiety that accumulates over time and takes a toll on our ability to effectively parent, to work, to be fully present for ourselves and our loved ones.”
Nicole Hampton said she was there to serve as an example.
“I want all my fellow Norwalkers to know that you’re not alone,” she said. “I myself experienced you know, depression, anxiety, dealing, coping with grief, managing stress during the pandemic. Norwalk has some of the most phenomenal resources available, I can attest to that, I engage in them myself. So never, you know, feel too scared to reach out for help, we are all here for you. You can always go on thehubct.org to tap into many resources.”
In addition to the survey results, “kids are also telling us that they’ve been using marijuana sometimes on a daily basis to cope with the stress of the pandemic,” Watt said. When they do that through vaping, sometimes, “you’re talking about a drug that is almost pure THC 80- 90 percent.”
“We’re finding at Norwalk, hospital, kids coming in with psychosis, all kinds of really distressing symptoms,” Watt said.
“We previously did focus groups with youth … the good news is, in general, youth have less access to substances and are probably using less during the pandemic,” she said. “However, there is a population that has been getting on Zoom and getting drunk with their friends and that’s how they’ve been socializing. And to a level that’s incredibly concerning.”
Barahona said Norwalk ACTS is having its last youth Town Hall of the school year at 7 p.m. May 12 and, “We urge the adults in this community to join as we listen and bear witness to these students and the stories that they share. They are telling us what they need, and it’s up to us to listen and create the appropriate support systems.”
The number one thing people should be doing is practicing self-care, Watt said.
“We need people, we need passion, we need purpose,” she said. “…Find ways to connect with others, even if you’re isolated at home.”
Indulge in your passion, “gardening, music, whatever it is,” she said. Find your purpose, “You can be so meaningful by volunteering by calling someone else to check in.” And, “know how to recognize when your stress or your symptoms are more than you can handle.”