A little more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, local nonprofit Z-Cares is presenting a new challenge for the Tri-Valley community to take up during Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
"We've probably yet to see the mental health crisis that COVID caused," co-founder Steve Nimmo told the Weekly. "The post-pandemic prediction is that there will be a large spike in mental health issues. We want to get out ahead of that."
When sheltering in place started in March 2020, the organization was fielding questions about how to help youths manage with anxiety and depression caused by isolation while much of the world was shut down.
While Z-Cares noticed an uptick in requests for help with mental health during sheltering, "I do think people found a rhythm during COVID," Nimmo said. "Speaking for myself, we spoke with my family way more during the year of COVID than before. I heard that from so many other people as well, that they found a new way to stay connected with family."
But as the world reopens, Nimmo said it's "definitely a mixed bag about things opening up."
Even taking kids out of the equation, Nimmo said there's been anxiety from adults about reopening, "then anxiety that COVID is still out there, people are still getting put in the hospital." Recent re-analysis of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also "causing some angst in people."
"The prevailing sentiment is, 'I just want to get back to normal as quick as I can,' and I think a lot of us feel that way," Nimmo added. "It's been a strange, hard 14 months, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel."
Though the pandemic also brought mental health to the forefront of public discussion, Z-Cares is looking to continue the conversation long after.
"COVID put a giant spotlight on mental health but we also want to look beyond COVID," Nimmo said. "We need to make sure that we continue our openness about mental health and continue to support these kids. A lagging mental health crisis may show up when we think life is normal again."
To that end, the organization partnered with the city of Pleasanton to offer special talks with both parent and youth groups, and will be offering several virtual mental health first aid training courses for youths during May, as well as encouraging the entire community to take up the "Z-Cares Challenge" to talk about depression and anxiety with family and friends.
"There's no better time than during Mental Health Awareness Month in May to just be vigilant about it," Nimmo said.
To learn more about the Z-Cares Challenge, visit www.zcares.org.