With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presenting increased challenges and stressors, the Assembly Health Committee held a hearing Thursday with testimony from invited guests to discuss the mental health needs of New Jersey residents. Health Committee Chair Herb Conaway, M.D. (D-Burlington) released the following statement upon the conclusion of the hearing:
“Not only has mental health always been just as important as physical health, but the two are inextricably intertwined. The spread of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of public health more than ever before, and our residents cannot be in peak physical health unless their mental health needs are also addressed.
“This pandemic has been one of the most – if not the most – stressful and challenging experiences for the people of New Jersey. To date, we have lost more than 12,000 residents throughout our state in the span of just three months, with the African American community tragically suffering the greatest losses.
“At a time of great uncertainty and fear due to a dangerous new virus sweeping our nation, we were forced to cut off in-person contact with friends and loved ones in order to keep each other safe. Daily routines came to a grinding halt due to necessary stay-at-home orders while approximately 1.2 million residents found themselves indefinitely unemployed.
“Even among those who kept their jobs, a different set of unprecedented challenges presented themselves.
“Essential employees such as public transit, grocery store, warehouse and other workers feared for their safety as they interacted with the public on a daily basis. Frontline workers providing medical care, especially at the height of the pandemic, witnessed the horrors of this virus as they worked day in and day out to save lives – all while putting their own lives on the line to do so.
“I too have seen and felt many of these challenges through my work as a medical professional.
“Even as cases decrease throughout New Jersey and daily life begins to resume, we cannot and will not go back to the ‘normal’ we once knew. Not only do we have to remain vigilant and continue taking extra precautions, but the psychological toll of these experiences will continue to affect many of us for the foreseeable future.
“New Jersey must be prepared to address the mental health of our residents, including the frontline workers and minority communities most impacted by this pandemic, by providing access to the screening and services they need.
“Thank you to all those who provided testimony on this topic today. My colleagues and I on the Assembly Health Committee remain committed to seeking out ways to help our fellow community members.”