Miami-Dade was already ground zero for serious mental illness. As a social worker, elected official, and person who has dedicated my life to community well-being, I was already focused on our emotional health. Now comes the worst pandemic any of us have ever experienced, the Coronavirus, with social isolation as the best prevention strategy. For those who live with others, you now comprise a “cluster” of those most vulnerable to contracting the virus together. For those who live alone, you are not supposed to be within six feet of anybody. We all must avoid going out into public unless absolutely necessary.
Because shopping for food and other basics is the only time we are allowed to “congregate”, grocery stores have become the new coffeehouses. Rush hour traffic has virtually disappeared, but driving to find toilet paper or a gallon of milk has become our top priority. While exercise is prescribed, we cannot access parks, beaches or marinas, cannot use public equipment or even benches, so we are stuck with solitary pursuits.
Our government is consumed with creating new rules to protect us from the virus while saving our economy from collapse. And our healthcare system is focused on preparing for the onslaught of patients who require additional isolation. And our children cannot attend school or childcare, with no playdates allowed.
So who is paying attention to our emotional health? How will we survive the trauma of this crisis even as we survive the virus itself?
I am very concerned about those most at risk for mental illness in the best of times: the homeless and incarcerated. But now we must also fear for our first responders, those who head daily into the storm, often times without adequate physical protection, such as the PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) which is in such short supply: our healthcare workers, police, fire rescue and home attendants.
I worry for our working parents trying to make a living in a shrinking economy while conducting homeschool. What about our service workers who have lost their jobs, healthcare and savings? What about our government employees from teacher to librarian to park attendant wondering how long their paychecks will last? What about all of us stranded, adrift from the patterns of our normal lives, left to endlessly consume the bad news, wondering when we or our loved ones will fall sick?
Never before has there been such a need for mental health expertise, compassionate interactions, and simple everyday kindness. How can we use this time of worry and reflection to support each other through the darkness?
As a social worker I know the difference mental health providers can make in these troubled times. These professionals are ready to step up to serve. We welcome and urge individuals to reach out to a skilled counselor or to call 211, our community hotline, to seek the help you need. Just talking with someone who cares can help you to stay calm and hopeful. Other resources include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255, or text SIGNS to 741741.
Together we can get through these unprecedented times, stronger than ever. Be safe. Be strong. Be kind.
Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County Commissioner District 8, is an attorney and social worker who has served Miami-Dade County residents as an advocate for almost 40 years.