COVID, water crisis exacerbating mental illness in Genesee County, health systems rep warns

By Coner Segren

COVID-19 is exacerbating a mental health crisis in Genesee County, according Lisa Bruder of the Genesee Health System (GHS) in a presentation to the January meeting of Flint Neighborhoods United (FNU).

“It would be impossible to live through COVID and not be impacted by in some way by stress or grief,” said Bruder,  manager of education at the GHS. “We need to tend to our community that has an existing mental health condition but also for the rest of the community acknowledging that it’s normal to be stressed, to be scared.”

In addition to COVID, Genesee County is still dealing with the effects of the ongoing Flint water crisis, Bruder said.  Many of the risk factors for anxiety and depression listed by Bruder, including uncontrollable, traumatic events; isolation and loneliness; and ongoing stress and anxiety, have become particularly acute with the twin crises of the pandemic and the lead-in-the water contamination.

Source: GHS PowerPoint presentation.

In the last year alone, according to the results of a GHS survey, there has been a major uptick in adults reporting feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. According to GHS, 19 per cent of adults were found to be suffering from an anxiety disorder, 6.8 had a major depressive disorder, and 6.8 were suffering from substance abuse. To make matters worse, only about 41 per cent of those with a mental illness make use of an available mental health service in a given year.

To help cope with the stress and isolation during the pandemic, Bruder encourages people to stay away from divisive or stressful places, such as social media;  to limit intake of news and politics; and to focus instead on what you enjoy and to find safe ways to stay connected, such as through new technology

“Everyone understands that [politics] is traumatizing on many layers,” she said. “Limit scrolling on social media. Think about more healthy things like reading a book or going for a walk or working on an art project and staying connected. Michigan has many grants and programs for people who aren’t familiar with technology to become more familiar.”

According to Bruder, people should seek help when mental illness “disrupts their ability to work, carry out daily activities, and engage in satisfying relationships.” She said she asks family members to remain vigilant if a loved one is experiencing symptoms such as pessimism, mood swings, lack of emotional responsiveness, and thoughts of death and suicide.

Above all, Bruder stressed that the most important thing you can do to support mental health in your community is by making people feel comfortable asking for help.

“We live in a time when it is still hard to talk about mental health,” she said. “And so being able to normalize it and say we all have mental health and just like physical health there is a spectrum of wellness and unwellness, and it’s not something to be ashamed of.”

COVID Relief Funds Face Potential Hurdle in State House Appropriations Committee

Federal dollars allocated for COVID relief — including for expanded testing, vaccinations, eviction diversion, rental assistance needs, additional funding for public schools — face a potential obstacle in the State House Appropriations Committee, according to Gary Jones, Flint community liaison from the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office of community affairs. Jones said incoming committee chair Thomas Albert is threatening to withhold federal relief dollars if the governor does not move quicker with reopening the economy.

Gary Jones, Flint community liaison from the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office of community affairs.

Jones quoted Albert as saying, “The governor must take more steps towards reopening the economy before the legislature can have meaningful conversations about next steps on allocating COVID relief funds.”

The move comes at the same time that a new variant of the virus which spreads faster has come to the United States. According to Jones, the governor considers this move to be “reckless and dangerous.”

Jones also said Whitmer is joining with a coalition of governors from other states, such as California and Kansas, to urge Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and President Donald Trump to release millions of doses of COVID vaccine being held back by the administration. Whitmer will also deliver her third State of the State address at 7 p.m. Jan. 27.

Public safety a priority for Mayor Neeley and Fire Chief Barton

After a spike in arsons last November, Flint Fire Chief Ray Barton will be hiring eight new firefighters. Barton told FNU members he also will be seeking greater cooperation with state arson investigators and an increase in federal funds from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

City of Flint Fire Chief, Raymond Barton.

“The Mayor is consistent on making public safety a priority, so we’re going to do everything to maintain and keep all of our stations open,” Barton said.  Barton did not offer specific numbers or further details about the arsons.

Remarks from Mayor Neeley

Mayor Sheldon Neeley echoed Gary Jones of the governor’s office by expressing his hope that vaccines will be made more readily available. “We will make sure that we do everything possible to make sure that we get every person who is willing to take the vaccination to better safeguard our residents and our city.”

The City Hall walk-up window will now be open for customer service until 5 p.m. According to Neeley, this is to better accommodate residents who have business with the City. Neeley plans to honor five people with the Key to the City, the highest honor he can bestow, during the Martin Luther King Day celebration this Friday. Honorees are being recognized for their lifetimes of “empowerment and improvement of our community.”

Funds provide improvement for parks

Multiple parks will be getting new playgrounds, as well as general repair and improvement, according to Nancy Edwards from Keep Genesee County Beautiful.  Funds from the Ruth Mott Foundation and the Flint Kids Fund have provided new playgrounds and equipment for places like Kearsley, Durant, and McCallum Park, as well as Mott Playground, Edwards reported.

Public can join monthly FNU meetings

Saturday’s FNU meeting was facilitated by Lucille James, vice-president of Flint Neighborhoods United, with help from Theresa Roach, program director of the Crim Foundation. The meeting was held virtually. The public can join FNU’s monthly meetings by emailing Chris Frye at to be added to notifications.

EVM Reporter Coner Segren can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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