Editor’s Note: “Mental Health Matters” is the theme of the November 29 “Giving Tuesday” campaign this year. All contributions across the diocese will be directed to support Catholic Charities Mental Health Services through Foundations in Charity. This article explores some of the significant mental health challenges people faced during the COVID-19 crisis and the impact of counseling on individuals and families who need help to cope.

To make a contribution on Giving Tuesday and donate to this crucial effort, visit the donate page at foundationsincharity.org. Catholic Charities will also be accepting Venmo: @foundation-charity

BRIDGEPORT—Mental health and a sense of wellbeing are all about connections, says Richard Madwid, MS, LPC, LADC, CCS, director of Behavioral Health Services for Catholic Charities of Fairfield County.

He says the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted connections between friends, family and the larger community. As a result, over the past two years Catholic Charities has seen a dramatic increase in requests for counseling and mental health services for conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to domestic violence and substance abuse.

Madwid says the COVID-19 threat has left people traumatized in big and small ways.

“We’ve seen trauma at all levels related to our experience with COVID-19,” he says. “We’ve had death and illness in families, a lot of job loss, which is very traumatic, and we’ve seen people physically hurting each other with the police involved and kids witnessing the assaults.”

Anxiety and depression have been reported in people of all ages, including college students who had their semester upended and were sent home last spring during the surge, he says.

“Many of these young people who left the nest and enjoyed freedom in college found themselves back home unable to go out and essentially being quarantined. Their lives immediately changed.”

Working at home also proved to be an added stress for people, particularly two-career couples, who struggled to maintain a work-life balance.

“When we closed our clinics in March of 2020, I was working under more stress at home than when I was in the office, and I found this was indicative of clients we spoke with. I didn’t feel I had a home anymore. I had an office upstairs, and after I thought I was done for the day, I’d be back upstairs answering an email,” says Madwid, reflecting on his own personal situation.

The Catholic Charities offices in Danbury and Norwalk, which serve people throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport, have provided counseling to individuals and families at all income levels because COVID-19 has affected everyone, Madwid says.

“The psychological dynamics of families coping with COVID-19 are the same whether poor or wealthy—the internal conflict and domestic violence cut across income groups. COVID-19 has induced anxiety for kids, parents and teachers—everyone reported the same thing,” he says.

Mask-wearing itself has been traumatic for many people who have felt a sense of panic and confinement from working in a mask all day.

“The masks, while necessary, created anxiety. Studies have found that when you don’t see someone full-face, you lose the affirmation you get through an encouraging or friendly smile just stopped. With masks, you don’t know what people are thinking, and maybe you don’t even recognize someone walking on the street. That caused a great disconnect among us.”

One important takeaway concerning mental health needs, Madwid says, is how the complex web of relationships we have at home, work, church and other locations help to sustain us psychologically.

“There is a strong human need for connection. As much as we need support from the family, we also need connections with the outside world. COVID-19 disconnected us from communities and each other. We need as many connections as possible to be attached—beginning with our bonding in infancy. We also need to feel attached away from family through community, churches and schools. And many people are still not fully plugged back in.”

As more people get vaccinated and new treatments come on line, people are venturing out again and feeling more confident, but Madwid says their problems won’t go away overnight.

“It’s going to take a year,” he believes for people to fully recover from the problems created by COVID-19. Substance abuse, in particular, is not likely to go away. In fact, it may get worse for some.

“The increase in alcohol and substance abuse during COVID-19 is not going to stop. If you look at history, it’s going to get bigger. Once people get used to drinking and using substances at that level, it doesn’t stop with the pandemic going away,” he says.

The good news is that for most people who seek counseling, it can help them cope and regain a sense of control over their lives.

“Generally speaking, within a couple of sessions, clients do feel some relief. Because of the support, they feel calmer. Many haven’t talked to someone outside of their family or had professional feedback before. The first two sessions usually take a lot of the weight off, and follow-up sessions help them to develop strategies.”

Madwid says that Catholic Charities will also continue to operate its Telehealth Services (see numbers below), which it introduced early in the COVID-19 crisis and has proved to be a lifesaver for many families. It offers cognitive behavioral therapy to those dealing with anxiety and other issues.

Catholic Charities has counseling offices at 405 Main Street in Danbury (203.743.4412) and 120 East Avenue in Norwalk (203.750.9711). In-person counseling sessions are available during the day and evening by appointment.

To make a contribution on Giving Tuesday and donate to this crucial effort, visit the donate page at foundationsincharity.org. Catholic Charities will also be accepting Venmo: @foundation-charity

… For more on Giving Tuesday: www.bridgeportdiocese.org/mental-health-matters-on-giving-tuesday