Mental Health Awareness Month: We All Have to Care, Our Community Health Depends on It

There is a direct correlation between individual mental health and the overall health of a community. It may be easy to think that if you’re not suffering from mental health issues, then it’s not a problem you have to worry about. But it is, it’s an issue with which we all must be concerned. Data shows that mental health impacts every aspect of life – from relationships to employment to physical health and finances.

The Community Foundation’s most recent Human Needs Assessment reflects that mental health is an emerging area of significant need, the pandemic stressed our already fragile mental health services system. In our last round of strategic grant funding, the Community Foundation distributed nearly $700,000 to support 23 nonprofit programs and initiatives, several of which directly address mental health needs.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to look at some of the local work being done to change lives for the better in Frederick County.

The Housing Authority of the City of Frederick (HACF) provides low- and moderate-income residents with a healthy foundation for economic self-sufficiency through employment and educational support in safe, affordable housing. The organization recently received a Community Foundation grant geared towards removing language barriers to mental health care.

“The truth is that if we believe that family stability and personal wellbeing are good for the whole community because it supports the ability to learn, to succeed, to contribute back to community – then we’ve got to provide everyone with access to those vehicles,” said Ann Ryan, Director of Family Services at HACF.

Ryan explained that HACF residents have access to onsite mental health services, but those service providers and therapists don’t typically speak other languages or know sign language, thus excluding non-English speakers and people who are deaf and hard of hearing from important services.

“So when the invitation is open to come connect with a therapist, but not for people who speak a specific language, then they can’t grow – those people are left out of the growth and prosperity invitation,” Ryan said.  “That affects all of us – individuals, families, the community.”

The grant provides for better access to mental health supports for non-English speaking and deaf persons. The program has served many including providing therapy for a deaf mother of five to increase stability and wellbeing in her home; providing a Spanish speaking therapist to lead a parent support group for Spanish speaking mothers in public housing; and providing French and Vietnamese interpreters who work with HACF and families in crisis to help them solve problems.

Heartly House provides comprehensive services to survivors of domestic violence – treating the impact of trauma is at the core of what they do. With the support of a Community Foundation grant, they provide counselor training in best practice interventions for complex trauma. And Frederick County Public Schools uses grant funds to help with behavioral supports for several students that are experiencing symptoms and challenges with seizure disorder and bipolar disorder.

It’s difficult to quantify the impact of mental health on a community’s wellbeing, but we know that untreated mental health issues can lead to unemployment, substance use, homelessness, incarceration, physical illness and other issues that put a real strain on families and employers, as well as social service and community support systems.

The Community Foundation is proud to partner with generous donors who have created funds specifically geared towards supporting mental health programs and initiatives, and we’re equally excited to work with the innovative and dedicated nonprofits who are directly impacting families and individuals seeking support. There is much work to be done to address mental health needs in Frederick County and with broad community support and collaboration, I really believe we can make a difference.

*Published online in The Frederick News-Post on 5/8/2023.