More than a month has passed since the coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted virtually every aspect of American life and culture.

The closure of schools, workplaces, restaurants and entertainment venues – as well as the widespread practice of social distancing — has greatly helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. But these changes have also taken a dramatic toll on the emotional and mental health of many Americans.

Jacki Post Ashkin, director of community connection at Jewish Community Services, said her agency has “noted an increase in calls to our Access Center call line from individuals experiencing anxiety and stress. Beyond that, we know that people are really feeling out of sorts. It’s understandable. As humans, we like to have some control over our lives, and now that control is lacking.”

Ashkin said many calls to JCS’s Access Center come from family of elderly community members who are concerned about the isolation and wellbeing of their loved ones. She said JCS and CHAI, or Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., are developing a program for people to call elderly residents in the community on a regular basis

Jacki Post Ashkin of Jewish Community Services

Meanwhile, JCS, CHAI, CHANA and their parent organization, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, this fall will launch AgeWell Baltimore, an initiative to help older adults maintain a high quality of life. The objective of AgeWell Baltimore is to help the elderly gain access to the myriad services available to them, their families and caregivers.

Individuals seeking psychotherapy can receive “tele-help,” telephone and video therapy session provided by JCS staff members. Meanwhile, people simply looking for connections and support can find relief through the agency’s virtual presentations and discussion groups.  

In late March, JCS began offering “Community Lunch Bites,” a series of 15-minute lunchtime presentations on such topics as recognizing stress reactions in children and adults, mindfulness techniques, tips on working from home, and virtual activities to combat isolation. The 12 presentations are available in JCS’s virtual library.

Beginning next week, JCS will also begin offering online discussion groups. “We found that people really want to talk with one another and with professionals,” said Ashkin, who encourages participants to RSVP as soon as possible since group attendance is limited to 20 members.

Ashkin said the discussion topics were selected based on a survey currently available on the JCS website. The number one topic that survey respondents chose was parenting during the pandemic, said Ashkin.

As a result, on Tuesday, Apr. 21, from 9 to 10 a.m., Stacey Meadows, JCS’s manager of child therapy services, will lead the first group discussion, “Managing Parenting Stress.” Upcoming discussion topics will include “Reducing Stress and Calming Anxiety” led by Howard Reznick, JCS’s manager of prevention education.

“We’ll continue to offer these as long as they are needed,” said Ashkin.

In addition, Ashkin said JCS next week will present virtual support groups, such as its dementia caregiving support group.

“People experience a lot of different reactions and emotions, and are seeking support and resources,” she said. “Everyone accesses information differently, so we’re offering it in a variety of ways to make it accessible for all. This is all part of The Associated’s response to the coronavirus crisis.”

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The University of Maryland Medical System is another source for emotional support during the pandemic.

The university is offering a series of webinars titled, “Not All Wounds Are Visible: A Community Conversation about Mental Health and COVID-19.” The schedule will include webinars on “Helping Your Children Cope” on Apr. 21 at 3 p.m.; and “Isolated But Connected” on Apr. 23 at 3 p.m.

To participate via audio only, dial 1-408-418-9388 and use the access code 718-245-551. For audio and slides, join any of the webinars on your computer or smart phone