“People have more anxiety. People are shut in and have anxiety about the future and anxiety about their work situation and how long this is going to go on,” said Sylvia Steinert, LCSW, a social worker who’s helped organize Ridgefield’s mental health providers to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I’ve talked to people who are extremely anxious, who feel depressed, who are lonely, who are coping in all sorts of different ways — both adaptive and maladaptive — struggling with how long this is going to go on, the feeling of loss of control, helplessness.

“There’s a lot of pressure on families,” she said, “...knowing people who are dying in their families, or extended families, all of these reasons.

“Whatever fault lines in all of us existed before, a national emergency of this magnitude only exposes the weaknesses in all of us, the vulnerabilities of all of us.”

Concerned over how the coronavirus is affecting the Ridgefield community, local psychotherapists and counselors have mobilized under the banner “Healthy Heads and Hearts” to offer easily accessible, pro bono and low-cost mental health support during this stressful and uncertain time.

Steinert reached out to the town Director of Social Services Tony Phillips, LCSW, to launch the effort, and within a week a group of nearly 20 counselors, psychologists, social workers and clergy volunteered to be available remotely for residents in need. They were eager to help.

“People jumped all over it,” she said.

Local drug and alcohol counselor Liz Jorgensen’s Insight Counseling office volunteered to provide telephone coverage.

The members of Healthy Heads and Hearts vary in their specialties, the insurances they take, and some are able to provide pro bono services for those who’ve lost work.

“There are a lot of people who are losing jobs, or their partners are losing jobs, so there’s suddenly less income,” Steinert said. “That’s a real worry, that keeps people from reaching out.

“With so much of our lives now nearly unrecognizable and direct access to those things that give life meaning largely denied, we all need to be concerned about how this pandemic affects us and those around us,” Steinert said. “It’s so important that people know that there is support for them — but also that this team can offer pro bono care at just a phone call away.”

Video, phone offerings

Professionals in the “Healthy Heads and Hearts” effort are available to conduct counseling and support by phone or video conferencing with Ridgefield residents struggling with anxiety, depression, family stress, and substance use issues.

In addition to offering counseling services, the therapists have posted video content and other source material covering issues ranging from relaxation to parenting tips to psychoeducation relating to loss and grieving.

They will continue to update their resource list with information designed to help Ridgefielders with a wide range of needs find help.

“People don’t necessarily understand that therapy is available by phone or video, and that it’s easily do-able,” Steinert said. “It’s different — it’s a different way to get to know somebody — but it’s the next best thing and can be very helpful.”

With work problems, and people staying at home day after day, Steinert has little doubt there will be a need for the services being offered.

“It’s affecting all of us, you can’t not be affected,” she said. “It’s not just: Am I alone, or with people? Being with people can be problematic.”

The current social distancing — everyone staying home, indefinitely — can trigger family strife.

“Teenagers that want very much to go out and have somehow internalized the message that their risk is zero. This is a huge issue between parents and kids,” Steinert said

Names and contact information for therapists participating in Healthy Heads and Hearts, and the educational content they’re providing, can be found at the Ridgefield town website’s home page under Social Services, www.ridgefieldct.org/social-services, or by emailing: socialservices@ridgefieldct.org.

To speak to someone live, people may call Insight Counseling at 203-431-9726 for assistance in selecting a provider from the list.

“It’s not always easy to find therapists, it’s complicated, people have insurance questions, people can’t always afford therapists,” Steinert said.

“At a time like this it’s important that people have access to mental health,” she said,

“It’s critically important at this time that people know they are not alone, and they can reach out easily for therapy.

“Let’s stay healthy in body and mind as we face COVID 19 together.”