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Ensuring physical safety was top priority during the pandemic. But many also saw immediately that mental well-being would also be a health and safety challenge. Isolation, uncertainty, grief, and lack of control take a toll. Many of the usual comforts and coping mechanisms are out of reach.

That’s what led to the How Right Now (howrightnow.org) website, an evidence-based, culturally responsive campaign that helps address people’s mental health and well-being challenges, and supports individual and community resiliency.

“There were reports of extreme stress coming to light early in the pandemic, with certain groups most impacted,” says Amelia Burke-Garcia, PhD, MA, and program director at the non-partisan and objective research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. To help people cope, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention turned to the CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that extends the work of CDC through public-private partnerships. Through its fundraising for the COVID-19 response, the Foundation was able to fund and carry out the campaign, choosing NORC along with communications firms Burness and TMNcorp.

It had to be fast—quickly built and quick and easy to use—reliable, and real, speaking directly to the people who need it. The research determined four priority audiences most likely to be affected in the pandemic situation: Adults over 65 and their caregivers; people with pre-existing physical and mental health conditions; people experiencing violence; and people experiencing economic distress.

The site starts helping at the home page: “Truthfully, how are you feeling today?” it asks, offering a collection of emotions to choose from including “lonely,” “stressed,” and “not sure.” Simply identifying emotions is helpful in itself, clinical experts advised. Each choice leads to material that helps you understand more about the feeling and vetted, evidence-based resources to help.

“Part of what we heard in the research is that people didn’t want fluffy content,” Burke-Garcia says. “They wanted things that are actionable and low-cost or with a low barrier to entry to help them cope and be resilient in their everyday lives.”

How Right Now can help not only residents, but also caregivers, staff, and families. Research included care to make the tool responsive to racial and ethnic diversity as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s also a Spanish-language version, at howrightnow.org/es/. A button on each page allows visitors to click the screen shut instantly to preserve privacy.

In their research, one of the top needs that emerged was simply validating people’s feelings: Seeing and “acknowledging the severity of their situations,” as the NORC description puts it.

“We heard people saying: I want to know that it’s okay to feel this way. I want to know that I’m not alone,” Burke-Garcia says.

Resources are refreshed to respond to situations such as during the holidays, when people expressed a need for resources on gratitude. It also includes support for finding food banks and jobs.

It also offers help for those who want to help. It can be difficult to know where to start a conversation when you sense someone is troubled, or to find the right words. Tips on meaningful conversation and how to listen with compassion—including how to do this over video calls—make it easier to reach out.

The program had more than 320,000 video views and more than 25,000 social media engagements in its first three months. Organizations can also partner with How Right Now to disseminate resources via their websites, social media, and more. For more information on partnership, see howrightnow.org/partners.

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