Our lives and sense of well-being have been severely impacted by the stresses imposed on us by the worry, fear and financial concerns caused by COVID-19, the ensuing lockdown and upheaval to daily lives, so much so that clinical anxiety has increased close to 20 percent during the first months of the outbreak, according to Mental Health America, which tracks screening data to monitor impact.

One in five U.S. adults already suffer from mental illness, and the one in two at risk for developing them are now even more in jeopardy. But out of medical crisis often comes new research and science that can help advance understanding of mental health issues in America.

This is why the Mental Wellness Center (MWC) — in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Santa Barbara County — is launching a virtual book club with an inaugural read that enlightens such a circumstance.

Through May, the MWC and NAMI Virtual Book Club will be diving into “Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family” by Robert Kolker.

In “Hidden Valley Road,” which has just been selected for Oprah’s Book Club, Kolker chronicles the fiction saga of the Galvins, a Colorado family who seemed to have it all until one after another, six of their 12 children were diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“The goal of our new, virtual book club is to enlighten readers of the struggles and journeys of those suffering from different mental health diagnoses, through both nonfiction and fiction books, and to help friends and loved ones gain insight and hope about the paths to wellness,” said Amanda Conroy, development and marketing director for the Mental Wellness Center.

The MWC & NAMI Virtual Book Club is free and provides a suggested weekly reading schedule through May, culminating in a live, virtual fireside chat with the author Kolker at the end of the month. For more information on the book club, visit www.mentalwellnesscenter.org. Thanks to a donor, limited copies are available through the Mental Wellness Center Lending Library.

Also this month, in celebration of Mental Health Month, the Mental Wellness Center debuted a brand new website. During Mental Health Month, the Mental Wellness Center invites you to connect online and take the Stigma Buster Pledge at www.mentalwellnesscenter.org.

For more information on the Mental Wellness Center or NAMI Santa Barbara County, contact Conroy at aconroy@mentalwellnesscenter.org.