At the beginning of Avengers: Endgame, there is a surprisingly premonitory scene. Captain America, the valiant soldier who wields an indestructible shield, appears in civilian clothes as he leads a support group. He’s here to help survivors of the Snap, an event triggered by the villainous Thanos in which billions of people die without warning or explanation. Still struck by the sudden loss five years later, support group participants are looking for answers on how to cope with their pain.
When a man says he’s just been out for the first time, Captain America replies, “That’s it. It’s those brave little steps that we have to take to try to become whole again, to try to find a purpose.”
Although the Marvel movie premiered in 2019, I’ve kept coming back to this scene in my mind since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dimly lit room, the dark voices, the sign on the wall that says, “Where are we going, now that they’re gone?” It was a minute-long glimpse of what healing might look like in a fantasy world defined by mass death.
Now here we are, after at least four million unexpected deaths worldwide, trying to find some semblance of normal like COVID worrisome variants overturn our expectations. Investors and entrepreneurs saw the magnitude of this suffering and saw it as a business opportunity. In 2020, investors invested $ 2.4 billion in digital behavioral health companies, many of which aim to embrace the therapeutic model of individual treatment and make it more accessible through virtual platforms. Some are trying to automate mental health care using chatbots that talk to users about their emotions.
These connections can support us in vital ways.
These services are important and can be useful, but strange as it sounds, the support group in End of Game proposes a model that is perhaps more realistic and meaningful. It demonstrates the irreplaceable value of peer and community support in the face of disaster. As we navigate the post-vaccination period of the pandemic and learn more about the emotional and psychological distress we still feel – along with our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues – we must prioritize some form of healing that builds on bonding and helps us build new relationships.
These connections cannot replace accessible, high-quality therapy, but they can support us in vital ways. They make us feel less alone, help us collectively deal with grief and trauma, help resolve practical or emotional issues, and bring communities together. We will continue to need this support as we face future waves of trauma from climate change, and research suggests that such social capital can lead to better mental health outcomes following disasters.
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As venture capital invests billions of dollars in efforts that will vastly expand an infrastructure of paid services that keep people in silos with a therapist, behavioral health coach, chatbot, or automated tool, imagine a federal initiative. major nationwide to fund community support groups. A small pilot project that provides support groups for agricultural workers could provide a plan. In one such group format, trusted mental health professionals lead wellness conversations with a focus on empowering participants to help each other rather than diagnose them.
Educational workshops that help people learn basic information about mental illness, how to identify signs and symptoms, and how to engage in empathetic conversations should be another important part of the recovery resources available to everyone. . We already have a model in Mental health first aid, at national scale Peer reviewed program that teaches people about mental health and wellness. However, the workshop is often promoted to first responders, teachers, social workers and other professionals who encounter people with mental illness or seizures more frequently. Expanding access and knowledge of MSFA could dramatically increase the ability of people to understand their own mental health and respond sensitively to others in difficulty.
With increased federal funding, community mental health centers, which typically operate as small hospitals or therapy clinics, could serve as hubs for support groups and workshops. They could also add social programs that bring people together to enjoy hobbies and activities like baking and basketball. If that doesn’t sound like mental health care, Dawn Belkin Martinez, associate dean for equity and inclusion and associate clinical professor at Boston University’s School of Social Work, isn’t. agreement.
“I think the community is a healing intervention,” she says.
“I think the community is a healing intervention.”
Belkin Martinez applies a “health release” philosophy to his work with students and clients. The goal is not just to help people cope better with stressors and mental health issues. It’s also about helping them understand how the systems that govern their lives – think capitalism, structural racism, misogyny, etc. – affect their well-being, then take action to change these external conditions while deconstructing negative messages about themselves. the sentence they internalized as a result. By adopting a different framework for viewing their problems while tapping into community networks and support to thrive, they can chart the course forward.
Unfortunately, this is what is lacking in many therapy experiences. Belkin Martinez says traditional training does not teach therapists how to collaboratively identify and discuss the links between mental health and socio-political factors. Psychology as a labor force too is not diverse, which means therapists may be culturally incompetent depending on their client’s background. In particular, people of color, people with disabilities and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender who have asked for help but have had to fight stereotypes or discrimination are well aware of this barrier.
Even though talented therapists and psychiatrists have valuable skills and expertise, not everyone wants such treatment, they can’t either to afford or access he. A long-standing shortage mental health care providers makes dating rare, especially now given growing demand. The issues we face in affordability, access and quality cannot be solved with Internet therapy, which has exploded during the pandemic. Some may prefer anonymity and convenience, but still cannot find the right therapist for them.
Community leaders develop creative approaches to the problem of quality and access. Take for example, “PyschoHairpy“, a program that certifies barbers and stylists in the provision of “culturally sensitive mental health first aid”. Founded by a black clinical psychologist who is also a natural hairstylist, the program trains participants in “microcounseling” skills such as active listening, mindfulness and storytelling therapy.
The organization Estoy Aqui (I’m here) aims to reach the Latino / Latinx and Black communities of western Massachusetts with a suicide prevention ‘community care’ model called La Cultura Sana, or Cultural cures. Its founder, Ysabel Garcia, told me that the model focuses on dismantling factors like systemic racism and white supremacy, which she believes contribute to suicide risk and mental health issues. Starting in August, Garcia plans to offer workshops to Latin / Latinx and black businesses that also serve as a common gathering place, such as barber shops, bodegas and laundromats. She hopes that by providing mental health awareness to business owners and their staff, they will be better equipped to identify signs of emotional distress, know what cultural strengths they can draw on to support others and respond. with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.
Some will still need the expertise of therapists and psychiatrists, especially as we learn more about the mental health problems and psychosis that may accompany COVID-19 infection. But think what might happen if the private sector and government invested in us, ordinary people who need community in the aftermath of a tragedy, and who love their neighbors, colleagues, friends and family, and want to help but often do not. know how.
We actually don’t need Captain America, but we could definitely use each other.
If you want to talk to someone or if you have suicidal thoughts, Crisis text line provides free and confidential 24/7 support. Text CRISIS to 741741 to be put in touch with a crisis counselor. Contact the NAMI Hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, or by email [email protected]. You can also call the National lifeline for suicide prevention at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a listing of international resources.