Covid Highlights Interplay of Financial, Emotional Wellness

When Covid-19 hit and the world shut down, billions of people lost their jobs virtually overnight. The economic fall-out has been population-wide, but it has not been felt equally by all of society. The pandemic has exacerbated the burden on the most vulnerable, both in financial hardship and mental health challenges. Emerging research suggests the two are closely linked.

History has shown that economic hardship drives anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior. Psychological disorders generally decrease in times of prosperity and increase in economic recession. Prevalence of suicide ideation and attempts follow suit. As the mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic comes into focus, it’s increasingly clear that this same pattern is playing out, but in an accelerated manner.

Financial difficulty often brings with it threats to housing, food, and other basic needs. Step one in most trauma recovery is to meet immediate needs of food, housing, clothing, and care. Without that, it’s hard to get to step two. Practicing healthy coping skills is a lot more challenging when you’re facing eviction or can’t feed your family.

Covering the Basics Key to Financial, Mental Well-Being

“Economic hardship can exacerbate everything,” says COVID Support VT Project Director Alex Karambelas. “Taking care of basic needs is foundational to mental health well-being in general, and will continue to be critical as we collectively recover.”

In recognition of this, COVID Support VT has recently expanded its free services to support Vermonters’ basic needs. Support Counselors can guide you to the right services and even help you fill out the forms. New offerings also include workshops on job skills and a support group for job seekers. A partnership with Hunger Free Vermont brings a new focus on food access in Vermont, including resources and workshops. See more resources below.

Job Loss Can Be Financial-Anxiety Trigger 

Many Vermont families have faced financial devastation after sudden job loss, reduced hours, or business closures. School and childcare closures made full-time work impossible for many more. Losing a job is considered a major life stressor at any time. During a pandemic of uncertainties, it can take on new meaning. 

A study in Europe during the early part of the pandemic linked sudden economic hardship to much higher prevalence of anxiety and depression among workers. Moreover, workers in the lower-ranked jobs – those with less pay and organizational status – were disproportionately affected. A U.S. study found that losing a job during the pandemic is associated with a 32% increase in risk for anxiety and a 27% increase in risk for depression. Other research shows that job loss plays a causal role in psychological and physical symptoms. 

Financial Disruptions Linked to Food and Housing Security

Income loss can trigger a domino effect of housing insecurity, food access, debt incurment or other hardships. Each of these individually raises the risk of mental health challenges; together their effects are additive. Low-income families with children are the most vulnerable. The U.S. study found that food insecurity raised the risk of anxiety and depression by over 250 percent, multiple times that of job loss. Symptoms were worse for parents in households with children.

Housing security is also strongly linked to mental health, in complex ways. Experiencing housing instability, insecurity or homelessness increases one’s risk for mental health challenges, and it’s easy to see why. At the same time, mental illness is a risk factor for homelessness. However, it’s a myth that all homeless people are mentally ill, a stereotype borne from the 1960’s-era de-institutionalization of people with mental illnesses, which left many on the street. The stereotype is outdated. Right here in Vermont, tight housing markets have put even middle-income earners at risk of houselessness.

Stigma Persists Even Amidst Financial Devastation

Stigma around social safety net programs persists, even in the midst of an economically devastating pandemic. Shame, pride, stereotypes, Vermont stoicism and self-sufficiency, are among the attitudes and misconceptions that prevent people from getting help. People think others are worse off than they are. Families who aren’t used to receiving support may be less likely to ask for it, or not know where to go for help. Some people don’t want others to know they need help. Small towns challenge that. These are deeply rooted perceptions that are not easily uprooted. 

One consequence of stigma is that Vermonters are under-utilizing Three Squares Vermont, the federally funded food-assistance program. Increasing enrollment is seen as one key to improving food access for Vermonters. Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Food Bank have partnered on a statewide initiative to change the way people talk about the program formerly known as food stamps. A public outreach campaign with the tagline “Everyone Deserves a Bite” seeks to address the stigma head on and break down barriers to food access. 

Read more on these initiatives in our blog, As Pandemic Compounds Food Insecurity in Vermont, Locals Step Up to Fight Hunger.

Learn More and Find Resources

Call 2-1-1, option #2, to speak to a COVID Support VT Counselor for free, individualized counseling and referral to community resources. We can even help you fill out the applications you need to obtain services. 

You can also chat with a Support Counselor on our website by typing your question into the chat box on the bottom right corner of your screen.

For employment and job-seeking support with a mindful perspective, join our Skills for the Job Search workshop series (every Wednesday in September at noon) and/or weekly Job Search Open Support Group (Fridays at 11 a.m.). All workshops and groups are free and online.

Learn about state programs offering nutritious food through our partnership with Hunger Free Vermont, and join our free virtual workshop on food access, coming in October. Visit Vermont Legal Aid’s Housing page for up-to-date information on the eviction moratorium and Vermont’s housing laws, rent relief through the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP), and more.

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Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (option #2) or 866-652-4636 (option #2) for free, confidential, one-on-one counseling. Our Support Counselors are available Monday – Friday. 

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org. Follow COVID Support VT on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And to stay up-to-date, sign up for our newsletter and blog.

Learn about upcoming Wellness Workshops from COVID Support VT, and Town Halls we’re hosting in partnership with community organizations.

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the COVIDSupportVT.org website, plus Multilingual Resources & downloadable materials in 10 languages common to Vermont’s New American immigrant and refugee communities. 

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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