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Hartford to offer free mental health app to address systemic problems; some residents are skeptical

FILE, 2023: Free mental health support is being offered to Hartford residents through a partnership between the city and Headspace.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
FILE, 2023: Hartford residents will have free access to mental health services through a partnership between the city and Headspace.

In response to rising anxiety and depression among residents, the City of Hartford is partnering with the mental health app, Headspace, and West Hartford's wellness nonprofit, Copper Beech Institute, officials announced on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen mental health issues manifesting themselves in so many different ways,” said Luke Bronin, mayor of Hartford. “Personal disputes that escalate to road rage, to absenteeism in our schools and at the workplace, to domestic violence, and community gun violence.”

Hartford residents, students, city employees, and Hartford Public Schools employees will get free access to mindfulness and meditation resources on the Headspace app. Headspace will also partner with the city to help identify available self-care resources and gaps, develop partnerships with local employers and health plans to cultivate a citywide culture of mindfulness and self-care, and measure outcomes through an impact study.

Wizdom Powell, chief purpose officer at Headspace, said the free one-year subscription to the app will include “personalized content recommendations that we’re going to work with city leaders to produce. We’re going to actually map spaces and places around the city where you can congregate to feel more mindful, calm, and protected.”

Copper Beech Institute will provide self-care and mental wellness training for city employees, with a specific focus for employees from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, and the Hartford Public Library. The nonprofit will also host mindfulness pop-ups at citywide public events.

The initiative also includes a partnership with the Greater Hartford Arts Council to create public art that reinforces the importance of mental wellness and self-care.

But some residents are skeptical, given the scale of the underlying problems that result in stress.

Cate Vallone, a pilates instructor and Hartford resident, said that to her, mindfulness is a “high-level skill.” “People seek out meditation and mindfulness when they want to thrive and grow,” she said. “Not when they are in survival mode. People in our city are stuck in survival mode — jobs are hard to find, money is hard to find, and mindfulness is not going to solve the problem.”

Another Hartford resident, Molly Lantagne, an art teacher, said it’s good that the city is setting funding aside for mental health. “But I don’t think this is a one solution problem,” she said. “Access to health care won’t be solved with an app and many people in need may not even have access to Wi-Fi or phones.”

Lantagne said people need coping strategies and apps aren’t for everyone. “They need to be used routinely and habitually and I just don’t see the people that may need mental health aid the most having the self discipline and motivation to use an app daily.”

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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