Helping People and Communities Address Mental Health Challenges

A majority of U.S. mayors last month identified the mental health of people in their communities as the greatest challenge caused by the devastating pandemic.

The new Survey of Mayors, conducted by the Boston University Initiative on Cities, found that 52 percent of mayors identified mental health and substance use as their top concern. Not unemployment. Not poverty. Not housing.

That stunning finding by the highly respected Initiative on Cities is further evidence of the pandemic’s toll on people and communities. More than a third of Americans ages 13 to 56 cited the pandemic as a major source of stress, and many said it has made certain parts of their lives harder, according to a recent survey from MTV Entertainment Group and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Roughly half of Americans across generations said the pandemic led to struggles having fun and maintaining mental health, the Associated Press reported.

The finding in the Survey of Mayors and the opinion polling by MTV and the Associated Press provide further evidence of the urgent need for mental health resources in communities across the country.

Mayors are warning us that they face a second pandemic in their towns and cities – a wave of mental health and substance use challenges. Frankly, it’s not even close – 37 percent of mayors identified learning loss among young people as the second-most pressing challenge caused by the pandemic.

Our response must match the need. We must help communities find the resources to meet the crushing demand for treatment.

Last month, the National Council announced it will take over the stewardship of Cities Thrive, a non-partisan coalition of more than 220 cities and counties working together to build a stronger, better-funded, more integrated approach to behavioral health. Through Cities Thrive, the National Council intends to raise awareness about mental health and substance use challenges and help cities identify innovative initiatives and find the funding to sustain those innovations and increase access to life-saving mental health programs.

Cities Thrive has proven to be a valuable network to the 220 municipalities it’s working with, and in 2022 the National Council is honored to work with Cities Thrive municipal co-chairs Reno, Nevada Mayor Hillary Schieve and Denver, Colorado Mayor Michael B. Hancock to enrich and expand the program.

“Now more than ever cities can no longer take a back seat to an even larger pandemic known as mental health and addiction. We need a mental health first approach in cities to raise awareness, educate, and to provide the necessary mental health care that has been left for far too long in the darkest of shadows,” Mayor Schieve said when she was named a national co-chair last month.

One way to do that will be to ask the National Council’s 3,200 members to reach out their elected officials – if they haven’t already – and urge them to join Cities Thrive. Because the goals of the National Council and Cities Thrive are so closely aligned, it stands to reason that our efforts can supplement one another through innovative partnerships between local government and community-based mental health and substance use treatment organizations.

So many communities participating in Cities Thrive already work with our members, but the room for growth is significant.

So is the need.

In the Survey of Mayors, elected officials confirmed that demand for mental health and substance use treatment and services represents their greatest concern. In the New Year we must pursue expansion of Cities Thrive to more communities so they can begin to repair the damage to our wellbeing caused by the pandemic.


Charles Ingoglia, MSW
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
See bio