The COVID-19 Health Emergency Has Ended. Its Impact in Fairfield County Continues.

May 16, 2023

Dear Friend,

This month marked the end of the nation’s COVID-19 public health emergency.

But while many in Fairfield County are eager to move on from a pandemic that has clouded our lives for more than 3 years, the official end of the emergency does not mean we can simply declare victory.

That’s because COVID-19 will continue to cast a shadow over our region for many years to come.  It is fair to say that we have all experienced a level of pandemic-related trauma and that there is some collective PTSD.  As a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, I have personally felt the mental weight of this period. I have also seen firsthand the challenges faced by my loved ones, friends, and colleagues. And while we’ve all been mentally taxed, for those who entered the pandemic in challenging circumstances, the weight has only gotten heavier.

Our latest Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index (2023) report offers clear evidence that disparities in our region were exacerbated significantly during the pandemic. This is especially true when it comes to mental health.

The pandemic’s impact on our collective mental health is well documented. Roughly 4 in 10 U.S. adults reported symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression during the pandemic, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to the 2021 Youth Behavior Risk Survey, nearly 1 in 3 (30%) of teenage girls seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago. In addition, overdose deaths and deaths by suicide have sharply increased.

These negative national mental health and substance abuse trends have also borne out in Fairfield County.  And they have disproportionately impacted some populations — especially Black and Latinx adults and youth.

The Community Wellbeing Index found that Black and Latinx adults in Fairfield County are 1.6 and 2.3 times more likely, respectively, to report feeling down or depressed compared to White adults. Adults earning less than $15,000 annually were 7.4 times more likely to report feeling down or depressed compared to adults earning $200,000 or more.

It will take concerted and sustained effort to not only reverse those trends, but to ensure that our community is better equipped to prevent a similar fate during the next crisis.  And just as we’ve all been impacted, we can all play a role in addressing the challenges.

We can start by using this Mental Health Awareness Month as a call to action — a call where we acknowledge the current state of mental health on our community and then commit to coming together to support programs and institutions that are working on the issues holistically.

As part of our Fairfield County Forward strategy, the Community Foundation is partnering with our community to ensure that all of us have access to high-quality, culturally competent physical and mental health services.

And while we have a long way to go to achieve this goal, there are emerging local models that provide a path forward.

One of those is the emme coalition, which is transforming the way health and mental-health care is delivered to women and girls in Bridgeport.  Through a partnership with OPTIMUS Healthcare, the Community Foundation is proud to support emme’s holistic approach, which links mental wellbeing to physical health and enables girls and women to make choices that improve their quality of life across multiple dimensions.  This program builds upon pioneering work we funded with Bridgeport Hospital in the form of multi-year support for the hospital’s first maternal psychiatric nurse based in the maternity ward.

Through the Susan Supple and Justin Scott Brown Fund, we are working to address teen substance abuse, which is linked in many ways to mental health issues, through a partnership with Liberation Programs and Bridgeport middle and high schools.

There is still a lot of work ahead.  However, when we engage with an eye towards solutions, we not only support our neighbors, but can also experience boosts in our own mental wellbeing. I invite you to join us by helping us to scale innovative efforts; by advocating for policies that eliminate inequities in mental health in our region; by sharing your own stories to help reduce stigma associated with mental health trauma and treatment and by learning more about the challenges and opportunities we face as we attempt to build a stronger, healthier community.

In community,

Mendi blue paca