Due to the pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate, according to, went from 3.6% in March 2020 to 14.7% in June. This means roughly 1 in 7 workers are unemployed, excluding off-the-books workers and 1099 contractors. Couple this with the statistical rate of 1 in 5 people that struggle with mental illness in our Country and the problem takes on a much tougher appeal. 

There is no clear picture of what the “New Normal” will be. The U.S. is still reeling from the 120,000 people whose deaths were directly linked to Covid-19. This excludes those that died because they were unable to receive necessary treatment due to limited capacities in emergency room situations. 

Depression and the number of overdoses and domestic violence cases saw a rise during the pandemic shutdown. But what can be done? Under Cuomo’s directive, the New York State Department of Health sought volunteers for mental health support. As someone with state recognized and professional mental health credentials, I volunteered for this initiative. However, and fortunately, the flood of professional volunteers was more than anticipated. 

Now that the City is gearing up and companies are creating safety plans to return to the office, some companies are instructing their personnel to take a mandatory online Covid-19 safety course. However, the topic of wellness needs to be addressed. 

The basic tips to improve wellness are simple. Eat well. Sleep right. Exercise and avoid harmful behaviors. All of which are relatively easy to do. A popular social tip to improve wellness is to spend time with friends and family. Volunteering and joining social groups are also popular suggestions. These are great tips in pre-Covid times. But what now? 

There are unions that offer assistance, such as IUOE (International Union of Operating Engineers) Local 94’s Wellness Committee and Member Assistance Program. The UFT (United Federation of Teachers) offers a wellness program to their members. As a recovery specialist and mental health first aid instructor, I have both offered and scripted plans to create empowerment and support initiatives to both union and corporate settings. With a sense of wellness in mind, perhaps we will have an easier time while navigating through this tough economy.

Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate.  Ben can be reached at 


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