[Excerpt of article by Stephen Underwood, Hartford Courant, 9/27/23]
All Hartford residents, students, and employees will soon have access to a free one-year subscription for a mental health app to help address what officials say is a rise in anxiety and depression in the city. A new partnership with the mental health app, Headspace, and West Hartford’s wellness nonprofit, Copper Beech Institute will offer personalized content recommendations, everyday mindfulness and meditation activities, mental health tips, and information.
“We’ve seen for many years now, but especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in stress and anxiety and in mental health issues manifesting themselves in so many different ways,” said Mayor Luke Bronin. “We see it like so many communities across the country do, showing up in everything from personal disputes that escalate into road rage, absenteeism in our schools and at the workplace, to domestic violence, and community gun violence in ways big and small.”
Hartford, which struggles with high rates of poverty, has long been considered by experts as a mental health care desert where costly services are out of reach for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Transportation also acts as a barrier to mental health care access as 35% of households in the city do not own cars, according to state data.
“Historically marginalized communities continue to experience widening mental health disparities and also face significant structural barriers to getting the therapeutic interventions that can really help them heal, grow, and thrive,” Wizdom Powell, chief purpose officer at Headspace. “We know that community residents in Hartford were hit the hardest. We looked around us after the COVID-19 pandemic and we all saw the wear and tear that was produced in our community.”
According to DataHaven’s 2021 Equity Profile, Hartford residents report higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to wealthier surrounding towns. Seventeen percent of Hartford adults reported experiencing anxiety regularly compared to just 12% of adults in the Greater Hartford area. In the same report, 14% of Hartford adults reported being bothered by depression regularly whereas only 9% of adults reported feeling depression regularly in the same Greater Hartford area.
“Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can be linked to social determinants like income, employment, and environment, and can pose risks of physical health problems as well, including by complicating a person’s ability to keep up other aspects of their health care,” according to DataHaven’s report.
As part of the initiative, Copper Beech Institute will provide self-care and mental wellness training for around 140 city employees, with a specific focus for employees from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, and the Hartford Public Library, since those agencies work directly with community members providing services.