Public transit. Water lines. And … feelings?
While local governments have always focused on giving residents what they need to live better lives, these services have typically centered around more concrete concepts like jobs and utilities.
But as mental health awareness becomes a bigger part of the cultural conversation, and as illnesses like depression rise, cities are expanding their purview, and exploring how the public sector can benefit the community’s emotional wellbeing. A number of cities are launching campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues. Others are developing apps with resources to address loneliness and depression. And some have taken their efforts to the next level, with a bevy of innovative attempts to support people struggling with mental health.
Here are a few creative ways local governments are turning mental health support into a public service:
Partnering to promote mindfulness
We’ve seen many examples of this “freemium” approach pop up during the pandemic, as companies offer free access to their products in hopes that customers will continue to subscribe in the future. LA County’s partnership no doubt will benefit the mindfulness app, but it’s also an example of a city bringing in a trusted, brand name provider to bring more attention to its mental health services overall.
Providing support in emergency situations
From substance abuse issues to homelessness, first responders sometimes have to interact with individuals who are emotionally distressed. Understanding that most police, fire, or EMT workers aren’t expert mental health professionals, some communities are working to make sure mental health support plays a more prominent role in the emergency response process.
Providing support to first responders
Privacy is a key benefit here — officers can use the app anonymously. This eliminates a barrier to seeking help that sometimes exists with in-person services.
Deputizing community members to help
Training local members of the community is a good way to provide support in places where resources are limited or far away. Having more members of the community aware and experienced with mental health challenges also can help to destigmatize these issues and encourage others to seek help among those they trust.
Offering mental health as an affordable housing amenity
By integrating wrap-around services with housing, the local government brings support directly to citizens who may not seek it out.
Beating the winter blues
Anyone who’s spent time in the north knows that winter can be a long, dreary affair. To raise awareness of mental health in the community, the city of St. Louis Park, MN organizes an annual winter solstice event. Hosted on the shortest (and therefore darkest) day of the year, the event includes activities such as a luminary walk, bonfires, and s’mores.
Events like this can be a two-pronged tool to support citizens’ mental health. They bring people together, strengthening community ties and counteracting feelings of loneliness. On top of that, by directly associating an event with mental health awareness, the city can draw attention to the challenges many residents face, and pair access to resources with a social activity.
Getting residents moving
Mental health is an incredibly personal, often private process that many citizens don’t want their government too involved in. However, promoting good mental health, and providing resources for those struggling with illnesses, helps strengthen communities and build a better quality of life locally.
Local governments should be talking about mental health — but they need to do so respectfully without imposing on citizens’ privacy. By turning mental health into a common and accepted topic of conversation, and making resources available for those who need them, cities can help improve, and sometimes save, their residents’ lives.