With research showing increased concerns about the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new and innovative partnership is offering a virtual program to help make a difference in the Jewish community and beyond.
Path to Well-Being is an initiative launched earlier this year between McLean Hospital of Waltham, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, and Jewish Family & Children’s Service. The program provides virtual sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is offered for individuals aged 18 and older at no cost, with enrollment currently open. As of early April, there were 39 people participating.
“The partnership aspect [of the program] is so important,” said Amanda Hadad, associate vice president for caring and social justice at CJP. “Each [organization] brings something different to the table so it’s as easy for people to access as possible.”
The process begins with a phone call to JF&CS for a confidential consultation with a counselor. If the counselor assesses that Path to Well-Being would be a good fit, the caller is referred to McLean for clinical services, with the counselor able to make further recommendations for other resources. CJP is providing the funding to make the program available at no cost. Religion is not a criterion for admission, but participants must live in Massachusetts.
“So far, we have people in their 20s all the way to their 80s,” said Dr. Courtney Beard of McLean, who is leading the collaboration. “It’s meant to serve people in the community.”
Beard noted that the program is “more helpful for people experiencing mild to moderate anxiety, depression, or both. Usually [they’re experiencing] both. It’s appropriate for people who don’t need a higher level of care.”
As Beard explained, CBT involves participants practicing “skills for improving your mental health” that measure “what you think, what images come to mind – as well as your behavior – things you do or don’t do that we know keep people anxious and depressed.”
The self-paced program can be done through a smartphone or computer. In each case, participants check in with a coach at McLean – an individual who is not a therapist but who is trained in behavioral health issues. The program usually lasts between six to eight weeks.
“It’s a time when so many people are trying to work from home, teach from home, juggle so many things,” said Sara Freedman, a division director at JF&CS. “To fit it around their schedule is so important.
“McLean is world-renowned in mental health work. To take their expertise and target and offer it to the Jewish community is huge.”
Experts said that there has been a rise in mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the Jewish community.
“Unemployment is so high – we’ve seen requests for food and basic need support skyrocket over the past year,” Freedman said. “In addition, many people are homebound, often isolating to stay safe. A lot of what we do across the board is help people make and maintain connections.”
In January, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University released a survey of the effects of the pandemic on young Jewish adults. Looking at two periods from last year – June-July and September – the study found that around a quarter of respondents reported feeling lonely in the previous week. A more recent set of findings was issued by the Pew Research Center indicating that about one-fifth of respondents cited an increased amount of high psychological distress.
“When the pandemic started,” Hadad said, “it was really important for CJP to be there [to see] how we can serve the community in this time of crisis. Talking to partners, agencies, individuals, even with the increased needs across the community – there were so many, rent, jobs, housing – we continued to hear about mental health.”
“Certainly we know, even before COVID, isolation is something not helpful for our mental health,” Beard said. “It’s something we tend to do to ourselves when we’re anxious and depressed and contributes to those symptoms in the long term.”
Beard added that the pandemic “has been really rough on people already suffering with anxiety and depression who are certainly vulnerable to these effects that are COVID-related. It’s also created [anxiety and depression] for people who have never experienced them before.”
Since the launch of Path to Well-Being two months ago, more than 100 people have called JF&CS seeking mental health support.
“Not all enrolled [in the program], but to have that volume within two months – the need is there in the community,” Freedman said.
To learn more about the program, visit cjp.org/path-to-well-being or call 781-693-5562.