Harsh K. Trivedi, MD, MBA, Sheppard Pratt’s sixth president and chief executive officer, joined the BCF Board of Trustees in 2020. Dr. Trivedi is a board-certified psychiatrist and a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is passionate about promoting greater equity in mental and behavioral health care. In February 2021, BCF’s CEO Shanaysha Sauls hosted a conversation with Dr. Trivedi and BCF grantee K.E.Y.S. Empowers for a donor update focused on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and the community foundation’s response. The following is a condensed version of the conversation (you can view the full remarks of the speakers on our website at www.bcf.org/DonorUpdate).
We know we are in a mental health crisis.
How do we engage in conversation about mental health?
Start by actively listening. Ask how someone’s day is going, and then give them the opportunity to speak. Provide reflections that indicate you are listening such as “that must be hard for you.” When we don’t know what to say, oftentimes we say nothing. But we all have the skills to have empathetic conversations. And remember, it’s okay to not be okay. In every room I enter, someone will tell me about a mental health challenge in their family. There is not a single person out there that doesn’t know someone affected by COVID or its mental health effects. I believe that, as a result of this pandemic, there will be a shift with how we discuss mental health and the impact it has on our overall health. My hope is that we can bring these conversations out of the darkness and develop a greater acceptance to receiving care for mental and behavioral health issues.
How is the pandemic affecting the mental health of children?
Virtual learning has been incredibly isolating for our children. Just as important as the academic instruction, being able to go to a classroom provides social and emotional interaction, along with opportunities to play with friends and share experiences. Children are missing those experiences, and concurrently, a lot of new COVID-related stressors have entered their lives. What if you came from a household where you rely on that breakfast or lunch you would get at school? What if you live in a home where there is domestic violence, and going to school was a safe haven that no longer exists? You may not be able to speak with a safe adult because you are on a screen at home where everyone is watching. Because of these factors, we are seeing more referrals for children who are struggling.
What are some practical steps we can take to improve mental health in our community?
Before COVID happened, we already had the highest suicide rates in the last 30 years, and we were facing an out-of-control opioid epidemic. When COVID arrived, a lot of people could no longer see their care providers in person. Additionally, depression and substance abuse are impacting communities of color at a greater rate due to the lack of access to care providers. For many, their mental health issues are compounded by the additional stressors related to insecure housing and food access. There are things we can do “upstream” to improve mental health and promote increased access to quality care. We need to keep people in stable housing, provide families with food and necessities, and continue our advocacy for digital equity. COVID has made telehealth an imperative, but we know that there is a digital divide in our community. We need more BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] mental health professionals who identify with and understand the experiences of those we wish to help. If we want to support the most vulnerable communities then we have to address this digital divide so the people who need our support can access it when they need to.