(Norwalk, Conn.) Today, May 12, 2022, Mayor Rilling issued a proclamation designating May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Norwalk. He was joined by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, Dr. Thomas McBryde, Norwalk Deputy Superintendent of Excellence, Equity and Inclusion, Denique Weidema-Lewis, Director of Equity and Collaboration Action at Norwalk ACTS, and Katie Gallo, a Norwalk resident and mental health advocate who shared her personal mental health journey. Together, City, State, and community leaders sent a strong message to Norwalkers experiencing mental health challenges: "you are not alone," and provided the community with insight on how to access mental health resources locally.
Most recently, the City made funding for mental health services one of its top priorities when distributing grant funds to local nonprofit organizations using federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act. A significant amount of the $ 1.5-million-dollar American Rescue Plan Act funding will directly help Norwalk residents with critical mental health needs.
"I want everyone in our community to know that they are not alone and that their mental health matters," said Mayor Harry Rilling. "Too many of our youth and members of our community are struggling with mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic. In Norwalk, I'm proud that we have prioritized mental health services through federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Through the work of our Community Services Department and several incredible community partners, we will continue to meet people where they are to help address urgent mental health needs here in Norwalk."
The State Legislature also made mental health a priority this session, especially among children. They passed three bills, HB 5001, SB 1, and SB 2, approving hundreds of millions of dollars to fund services that will increase the number of mental health providers across the state, as well as increase school-based health centers.
"The pandemic turned cracks in our mental health system into a full blown crisis, especially for so many young people," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. "This year, Senate Democrats prioritized addressing mental health with new procedures, better systems, and, most importantly, more funding. Those investments will pay off in a real way here in Norwalk. Thank you to the city government, school staff, and medical professionals that are already starting to turn these new laws into positive, on-the-ground change."
In 2021, data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that more than a third (37%) of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, a study conducted by The Norwalk Partnership in 2021 found that nearly 40% of middle and high school-age students reported experiencing depression.
We are pleased to join in today's efforts to shine a light on the importance of mental health awareness and care," Dr. Thomas McBryde, Norwalk Deputy Superintendent of Excellence, Equity and Inclusion. "At Norwalk Public Schools, we are committed to providing our students, staff and families with the support they need to navigate challenging times. Across the district, we have developed programs to promote positive school climates, including mindfulness training, mentorship opportunities and much more. All our schools emphasize the importance of building intentional relationships with students, so they know there is always a trusted adult they can go to for support. In addition to connecting students with a school counselor, social worker or psychologist, we also make families aware that our staff can connect them with supportive organizations in the community. Our partnerships with the City of Norwalk and community providers means our entire school community has the supports and structures available to give mental health the priority it deserves."
"By sharing my personal story, I want to give hope to others who may be struggling with their mental health and let them know it's ok to ask for help," said Katie Gallo, Norwalk resident and Mental Health Advocate, sharing her personal mental health journey. "I also want to chip away at the stigma that still exists and prevents so many people from seeking the treatment they need. The stereotypical portrayal of mental illness in the movies and on television is not reality. There are millions of other people just like me who are leading successful lives, raising families and running businesses despite having a mental illness. We are just like any other person except we need some extra support to live our best lives."
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, community leaders have organized the NorWALK Mental Health event on May 21. The event aims to spread awareness on how community members can access mental health resources and combat the stigma around mental health. There will be activity booths, speakers, prizes, live music, and art throughout the day, including "paint your art out." Clinicians will also be offering free wellness screenings at the "check-up from the neck up" booth and be available to answer your mental health questions.
"Similar to national trends and from our local data, we know that Norwalk young people and adults are experiencing more anxiety and feelings of depression," said Denique Weidema-Lewis, Director of Equity and Collaboration Action at Norwalk ACTS. "The walk and wellness fair is an opportunity to connect the community to impactful local resources and to have more dialogue on how to increase and maintain good mental health. The Social Emotional Initiative of Norwalk ACTS and The Norwalk Partnership encourages the community to participate in free activities and training that are happening throughout the community all month long."