Howard County Times
Howard County

Horizon Foundation and Howard County are responding to mental health concerns in new ways | COMMENTARY

A few months ago, we asked partners and friends to share the mental health issues they saw impacting our Howard County community. Their responses spoke to a staggering need. Here are some of the things we heard:

  • Nationally, 66% of high school athletes have experienced depression and anxiety due to COVID-19 and the cancellation of their sports and activities, an impact that hits close to home for many of our Howard County youth.
  • Even as crimes against Asian Americans have risen by 164% across the country over the past year, many people — particularly older members of the community — still struggle to openly discuss mental health and the traumatic toll this environment can take.
  • A Howard County teacher is so worried about her students’ stress and anxiety, she developed her own in-class strategies to support their needs.
  • Almost half of the autistic adults who attempt suicide in the U.S. haven’t been diagnosed with depression. Given how many families move to Howard County for its early intervention services and inclusive school system, the intersections between autism and mental health are a pressing concern.
  • Explicit and implicit biases are preventing Black girls from owning their gifts and talents, and their inability to ignite their natural “Black Girl Magic” has devastating consequences at every developmental stage.

These concerns fueled the lineup of last month’s Horizon Foundation Mental Health Film Festival. What we saw in the films and heard in the discussions that followed spoke not just to the need to openly address mental health challenges in Howard County, but also to the compassion and drive of our neighbors, including the 1,200 people who attended the event.


As we grow in our understanding of mental health challenges, we must deepen our empathy for our neighbors and further our efforts to improve mental health access. In recent years, coalitions to strengthen mental health supports in Howard County have taken a variety of shapes.

For children, the Howard County Public School System and the Horizon Foundation are working together to offer enhanced mental health services, including one-on-one counseling, at 50 of our 77 public schools. (Our goal now is, of course, to expand those services to every student.) And, because families often turn to their pediatrician for help with mental health needs, the Horizon Foundation is helping the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics integrate a psychologist into two local practices.


For people in crisis, Sheppard Pratt opened its new Elkridge campus this summer, offering a psychiatric urgent care clinic to those experiencing mental health or addiction crises. The Horizon Foundation teamed with the United Way of Central Maryland to expand the clinic’s hours to provide access 12 hours a day (with reduced hours on holidays), seven days a week beginning later in 2022 once the clinic is fully staffed. Our county is also part of a regional partnership — the Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis System — that is expanding crisis services to provide vital care without engaging police or emergency departments.

Finally, for our entire community, two important events drew collective attention to mental health concerns this fall. With Gilchrist and the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, the Horizon Foundation organized a month-long series focused on grief, loss and trauma that drew more than 150 attendees. Also, the Mental Health Film Festival included not just our key collaborator, Columbia Festival of the Arts, but also seven other extraordinary partners who served as co-hosts: Oakland Mills Online, Howard County Chinese School, Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County, Temple Isaiah, Howard County Autism Society, the Columbia chapter of Links Inc., and Alston for Athletes.

Think about the number and scope of Howard County stakeholders involved in these efforts: teachers and principals, pediatricians and hospitals, philanthropies and filmmakers, clergy and community leaders. Recognizing that it will take all of us — and a host of interventions — to address the mental health challenges of our families, friends and neighbors, we take great hope from this extraordinary set of committed local actors.

So how can you get involved? Consider becoming an emotional support human, the kind of person who reaches out and listens compassionately to loved ones living with anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns. Sign the school-based mental health petition to demand that enhanced mental health supports be available in all Howard County public schools. Call on the state to fund enhanced crisis response services. And, if you are experiencing a crisis, call the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center at 410-531-6677.

Too many of us have felt or been affected by mental health concerns. And too many of us have not received or felt the support we need. Howard County is ready to respond in new ways, building on the commitment of neighbors, communities and institutions that care.

Tiffany Callender Erbelding is senior program director at the Horizon Foundation, and Lisa Pearson is vice chair of the Horizon Foundation board of directors.

For the record

This commentary has been updated to correct the hours of the psychiatric urgent care clinic at Sheppard Pratt in Elkridge.