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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 5/13/20

Good morning,

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Somehow it seems apropos that the “Great National Lockdown” coincides with the commemoration of mental health. I think it fair to say that all of us, to one degree or another, has some issue dealing with our own mental health in these challenging times. Whether anxieties or depression are caused by housing, food, or job insecurity, whether it’s dealing with health issues, personal issues, loneliness issues, issues of mortality, anger or frustration—it’s out there.

Even in the best of circumstances it’s tough to be human. Our society moves fast, our jobs are demanding, our path toward success and fulfillment often riddled with blocks along the way.



Given the stigma still associated with mental health issues, I was surprised to learn that Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949. Mental health has, for much of these past 71 years, been something whispered about, something battled alone, and something experienced in shame. No one seeing a physically handicapped person would kick his or her wheelchair. Similarly, there are few people who would laugh at or deride someone unsighted or deaf or suffering other incapacity (well, other than our President, who finds humor in such things). But the stigma of mental health is pervasive—the subject of jokes and humiliation. Hopefully the tide is turning. More and more, people are availing themselves of tools to find peace and comfort—from yoga to meditation, from mindfulness classes to group therapies. And more and more structural and cultural barriers to accessing mental health care are being dismantled.

I want to highlight two areas where mental health is a big issue and people are doing something about it.



Life seems more stressful now than when we were kids—and college certainly is stressful. I have been railing for a while about the large colleges and universities that continue to chase U.S. News rankings, engage in arms races to steal professors from each other, and pay exorbitant salaries to many on their coaching and athletic staffs. This is all while retaining a host of development officers and administrators jetting around the globe on first class flights to conferences and to hobnob with the world’s elite.

But this is nothing compared to the failure of many to openly acknowledge a different epidemic than we are living through now…the epidemic of mental health, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. I am proud of USC for being a leading voice in this area. Varun Soni, in addition to being the Dean of Religious life, also is the Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention. Under his oversight, Quade French and others are tackling this pervasive problem.

To support the university’s effort to address the issues of student mental health, our family helped create and is financially supporting the Brad Sonnenberg Health and Wellness Initiative at USC Hillel. The Initiative has a full-time therapist for one-on-one counseling, and offers myriad programs to reach out to students (like meditation, mindfulness classes, yoga). Now that much learning is going on-line, so too is the support that the Initiative is providing.

In addition to programming efforts, Quade French and Ilene Rosensetein, in the office of Campus Wellbeing and Education at USC, are focused on changing the culture at USC to one that supports and enhances wellbeing and healthy relationships for faculty, staff, and students. Their work is guided by the philosophy that when an organization’s culture is supportive and well, the individuals within it can thrive. This is particularly meaningful on a college campus. When faculty and staff are thriving and connected as individuals, they are better able to support students.



As significant as the mental health strains of the current crisis can be, they have an even greater impact on those affected by persistent poverty and toxic stress. Traumas from neglect, abuse and violence can have lasting effect on young bodies, brains and futures. I asked Martine Singer, CEO of the Children’s Institute (CII), to share some of her observations in light of the current crisis.

Martine notes that the problems plaguing children and families, particularly in CII’s primary service areas of Watts and South LA, are even more acute during this crisis. The families CII serves are predominantly Latino and African-American, live in areas with high concentrations of poverty with little access to healthcare and other basic services. They are most likely to fall into destitution as a result of illness or unemployment. As we all know, unemployment and underemployment in these communities in normal times are problematic. These families are disproportionately impacted by COVID, and have the greatest needs. Distribution of essentials, such as food, diapers and soap, has been happening since the beginning of March, as has on-line counseling.

I’ll have more on mental health later this month.



Thanks, Rick Powell, for sending along this quartet of grandstanding virtuosos:



Museum links for the Met and the Museum of Modern Art. These are among the better museum links:

Met Museum

Check out their Digital Digest for a wide range of access options.


Read the museum’s digital publication Magazine, take free online courses on Coursera or listen to their podcast collaboration with the BBC, The Way I See It.

Stay healthy,


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