Website offers advice, resources, connections
In spring of 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic was becoming a reality for Washington residents, the state Department of Health issued a dire warning: The emotional strain of the pandemic would result in a “trauma cascade” of mental and behavioral problems for millions of people in Washington.
Based on state population data and research on psychological responses to disasters, state health officials predicted that 50-60% of Washington residents (3-4 million people) could experience significant behavioral and mental health issues resulting from the strain of the pandemic.
“Symptoms of depression will likely be the most common, followed by anxiety and acute stress. These symptoms will likely be strong enough to cause significant distress or impairment for most people in this group,” the Department of Health (DOH) warned in a forecast of behavioral health impacts last spring.
About the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee created a Social Services Task Force to assess how well Washington state was supporting its people during the crisis. The group, which included leaders of nonprofit social service organizations throughout the state, agreed that the looming mental health crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic was a “ticking time bomb,” said Sonya Campion, who was appointed to lead the task force.
Campion has a second home in Mazama and is president of the Campion Advocacy Fund, which seeks to end homelessness, protect public lands & climate, and strengthen nonprofits.
Members of the Social Services Task Force were alarmed by the prediction that some 3 million Washington residents would struggle with clinical mental health symptoms arising from the pandemic.
“We know there isn’t the capacity of 3 million clinical counseling appointments available, nor would a lot of people want that, but what we learned is that resilience is the most important factor in making it through trauma. Thus, leveraging the resilience of our citizens to help each other became our goal,” Campion said.
In their assessment of behavioral health impacts of the pandemic, state health officials said that resilience in response to a crisis can be intentionally taught by focusing on developing social connections, big or small; reorienting and developing a sense of purpose; becoming adaptive and psychologically flexible; and focusing on hope.
To promote resilience and connections among state residents and help them recover from the trauma of the pandemic, the Social Services Task Force developed a statewide campaign called “A Mindful State” in collaboration with the state Department of Health. The recently launched campaign has a website that offers practical advice from experts and advocates in mental health, a list of resources where people can find help, and a place for people to share personal stories.
“A Mindful State is a people-powered and community-organized statewide campaign intended to help facilitate a feeling of community and a sense of duty and support for one another,” Campion said in announcing the campaign. “The online platform provides a space to host human stories about coping with mental health, both from community members willing to share the lived experience and from mental health professionals who can provide context and expertise to help navigate paths to recovery.”
The website provides advice from experts on mental and behavioral health topics such as loneliness and isolation, suicidal thoughts, addiction, stress and anxiety. It encourages people to become involved in helping others, such as suggesting that people check in with five other people each week to see how they are doing. The site hosts videos of people sharing personal stories of struggle and success, and provides the opportunity for people to submit their own stories to help others.
“Collectively, we have all gone through trauma this past year, and as we come out, there is so much uncertainty that affects our mental health,” Campion said. Although state health experts predict that half or more of the population will experience some mental health impacts, “the good news in these statistics is that they suggest there are three to four million more folks who are also in a position to lend a hand and help people who are struggling,” she said.
The Mindful State initiative is funded through a grant from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and is managed by DOH. The website, currently in English and Spanish, will be available in additional languages in the future, according to information on the website.
The campaign is expected to expand from the website presence to include online community meetings, email, texting and a call-in number. Eventually, as pandemic restrictions are lifted and more in-person events are possible, the initiative proposes to connect people through support groups and other gatherings, according to the website.
Find the website for A Mindful State at mindfulstate.com.