Mental Health and Covid-19 Trauma: Chicago-Based Experts Discuss

mental health

With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to interject itself in every aspect of life—especially mental wellness, the Economic Club of Chicago recently hosted the panel discussion “Mental Health and Trauma.” Five Chicago-based experts represented corporate, social, and medical points of view on this topic and discussed structural, systemic and political solutions to promote mental health and wellness. Moderated by Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds, the panel included:

Here are 6 key takeaways about pandemic-era mental health and trauma:

Pandemic-induced loneliness should not be overlooked

“We have to pay attention to the people around us,” says Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We need to slow down and listen. Attending to people and connecting them to the resources they need is so important.”

Schools have become a de facto mental health agency

“We need to build a system that identifies children in need earlier in life, earlier in their symptoms and get them the services they need where they live, learn and play. We do this not by just creating hospitals, but by building community-based programs that really think about all of the adults that work with kids,” says Colleen Cicchetti Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for Childhood Resilience (CCR) at Lurie Children’s Hospital. CCR focuses on providing access to mental health services for children and adolescents.

Mental wellness needs to be more than self-care

“Loving on your staff is important, encouraging them to be balanced is important, but self-care can start to feel like a company is putting the onus on their employees to take care of themselves when the system and structure they’re working in isn’t there to support them,” adds Cicchetti. “It’s not enough to take a bubble bath and drink some hot tea. We need to put a collective response in place where we’re taking care of one another.”

Companies can’t just speak of work-life balance

“We don’t have any idea of what people are coming to work with in terms of what their situation is at home or what’s going on around them. We need to create an opportunity for them to dialogue,” says Eileen Mitchell, President, AT&T of Illinois, one of the state’s largest employers that’s on the leading edge of addressing mental health challenges faced by its workers. “We need to meet employees where they are. Mental health has to go beyond self-care. We need to take care of ourselves, our families and each other.”

Stay hopeful

“We need the community to be invested in what we’re doing as a collective to help support mental wellness. That’s where we’ll see real change,” says Eddie Bocanegra, Senior Director of Heartland Alliances’ READI Chicago. READI Chicago is an evidence-based and trauma-informed program to reduce gun violence and promote safety and opportunity in the city.

Everyone is called to be part of the solution

“Do anything and everything you can do because every little bit and every big bit makes a difference. Donate, volunteer for your favorite organization or join a board. Help make important systemic structural change. We need you!” says Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds.

To hear more about what was discussed among the panel, including what they do personally to promote mental health for themselves and the greater Chicago community, watch the full video below.

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Ann Marie Scheidler is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and five children. She tends to be where her kids are, but if you can’t find her there, she’s proudly supporting Beacon Place as one of its newest board members. Beacon Place is a nonprofit organization that has changed the lives of 4,000 children and families in Waukegan. Their innovative programs take a whole child and family approach to education, enrichment and healthy lifestyles support.

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