The U.S. Cities Most Vulnerable to COVID-19 and Poor Mental Health | Cities

For many Americans, the novel coronavirus outbreak has seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Nationwide lockdowns in the spring prompted white collar employees to work from home, often forcing them to simultaneously juggle family and professional responsibilities. And although certain states have eased more restrictions than others, school districts remain shuttered throughout the country. Thousands of working parents are still without respite. Meanwhile, front-line workers without the luxury to work from home continue to put their lives at risk.

Just prior to World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, the Surgo Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, and Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, published a report highlighting 13 American cities that they say are especially vulnerable to the twin crises of COVID-19 and steep declines in mental health.

Their study evaluated cities based on the percentage of residents living in communities that were both ill-equipped to deal with coronavirus outbreaks and had high rates of poor mental health; their state’s access to mental health care; and whether they had a higher than average ratio of residents to mental health care providers. Metrics on states’ access to mental health came from Mental Health America, while data on resident to mental health care provider ratios came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.The cities ranking also drew from Surgo’s COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index, and from 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in which individuals self-reported having poor mental health within specific census tracts.

Camden, New Jersey, scored the worst on the list, with as many as 84% of residents living in communities that exhibited high rates of poor mental health and vulnerability to COVID-19. Two other New Jersey cities – Passaic (No. 5), with 65% of residents vulnerable to both COVID-19 and poor mental health, and Trenton (No. 13), with 50% of their residents at risk – also made the list.

Nine of the 13 cities on the list were in the Rust Belt, including Reading, Pennsylvania (No. 2); Detroit (No. 3); and Rochester, New York (No. 7). Nearly half of the at-risk cities were in either New Jersey or New York.

“The rates of poor mental health outcomes are extremely high in the Rust Belt,” Surgo analyst Christine Campigotto told U.S. News. “When you look at rates of poor mental health in a map, the Rust Belt stands out.”

The four geographic outliers were Springdale, Arkansas; Albany, Georgia; San Bernardino, California; and New Bedford, Massachusetts. New Bedford’s appearance on the list is notable because the report references Massachusetts’ high ranking in terms of access to mental health care.

“These are tumultuous times for Americans, and they are taking a toll on our mental health,” Surgo Foundation co-founder Sema Sgaier said in a press release. “I hope our findings will spur local officials to adopt data-driven responses to ensure appropriate and equitable allocation of mental health resources to these communities.”

Here are the 13 cities most impacted by vulnerability to COVID-19 and poor mental health, according to the Surgo Foundation:

Thirteen U.S. Cities Most Impacted by COVID-19 and Mental Health

City and State Percent of residents living in highly COVID-vulnerable communities with high rates of poor mental health Mental Health America’s State Access to Care Ranking Higher than average ratio of residents to mental health care providers? (US average = 400:1)
Camden, New Jersey 84% 33/50 YES (450:1)
Reading, Pennsylvania 78% 13/50 YES (480:1)
Detroit, Michigan 77% 15/50 NO (370:1)
Springdale, Arkansas 65% 35/50 YES (440:1)
Passaic, New Jersey 62% 33/50 YES (450:1)
Allentown, Pennsylvania 61% 13/50 YES (480:1)
Rochester, New York 60% 16/50 NO (350:1)
New Bedford, Massachusetts 54% 2/50* NO (160:1)
Albany, Georgia 54% 50/50 YES (730:1)
Buffalo, New York 54% 16/50 NO (350:1)
San Bernadino, California 51% 27/50 NO (280:1)
Syracuse, New York 51% 16/50 NO (350:1)
Trenton, New Jersey 50% 33/50 YES (450:1)