Councilmember Mike Bonin holds virtual town hall

By Katie Lulla

11th District Councilmember Mike Bonin recently held a town hall via Zoom that focused on three mental health resources and answered questions from district constituents surrounding mental health awareness and action.

Eden Garcia-Balis, CEO of Airport Marina Counseling Service (AMCS), gave a PowerPoint presentation on AMCS’s different resources. AMCS offers a range of resources, from their At-Risk Kids Program to community-driven support groups, on a no-contract basis.

Garcia-Balis concluded her presentation with slides on the signs of anxiety and anxiety management. She stressed the usefulness of mindfulness and exercise when combating the external stressors of social media, the news and COVID-19 concerns.

“With the pandemic there is so much we can’t control, so we must really focus on what we can control,” Garcia-Balis said.
To decrease anxiety from the pandemic, she suggested having a plan and noted that the plans are different for every age group.

Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger, CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which specializes in mental health crises and suicide prevention, addressed many of the family-based questions.

Dr. Goldfinger said that childhood trauma often leads to adulthood depression. He also mentioned that depression and anxiety has increased dramatically in children, but parents must also focus on their own mental health.

“Our children respond to our verbal and often non-verbal cues,” Dr. Goldfinger said. “The most common and most improvable trauma for children is their own parents’ health.”

Both Garcia-Balis and Dr. Goldfinger addressed the indicators of isolation and suffering in young children. Distressed toddlers may miss milestones and children can either become more risk-loving or withdrawn. A change in routine can be a signal of mental struggles in children and senior citizens.
Another point brought up by Garcia-Balis was that technology struggles may also be a reason behind absences online.

“Is your senior parent calling less?” she said. “When you’re chatting, what are they saying? Are they still meeting with others through Zoom?”

Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, spoke about the importance of early intervention. He said that grief can appear from issues less severe than a family member’s death, such as a loss of purpose. However, many people do not seek help because of social and systemic stigma.

“This is a challenge of engagement,” Dr. Sherin said. “We need individualized approaches to engage different people and we need a continuum of engagement tools. [In the 1960s] we did not do the cultural work…We moved from state hospital institutions [to the streets and jails.]”

Dr. Sherin stressed housing as being a first priority for the chronically homeless, as homelessness can cause severe trauma even for those who do not have mental illnesses. Once there is housing, adequate care can be administered.

Dr. Goldfinger added that the local government needs to work with the surrounding community to devise sustainable solutions and social nets to bring people back into the community.

“We really have to find ways to humanize the story of those living on our streets who have suffered this trauma and make it relevant to everyone,” Dr. Goldfinger said.

At the end of the town hall, all three speakers emphasized mind-body connection and awareness. Dr. Goldfinger said that physiological changes can indicate psychological concerns. While more severe cases need help from professionals, many people benefit from having someone to listen to them and lend support.

“Mental health is health,” Dr. Goldfinger said. “The mind and body are inseparable.”

The Mental Health Town Hall is part of a series of conventions Bonin is holding to address questions and concerns around the pandemic.