Mental health is seen as a personal issue that should be kept to oneself. However, it is essential to remember that mental health is also a communal issue. Just like our physical well-being depends on our community, our mental health does too. Economic disturbances, social injustice, and other stressors can impact our mental well-being.
It results in a domino effect where increasing crime rates, divorces, and suicides become common. As members of a community, it is our responsibility to do what we can to promote positive mental health.
So, let's look at practical ways to work together to promote positive mental health in our communities.
Consider Volunteering or Choose a Career That Makes a Difference:
One way to directly improve your community is by volunteering for organizations that help those with mental illness. These can include suicide hotline centers, support groups, or shelters. As a volunteer, you'd be responsible for providing companionship, offering a listening ear, and being a shoulder to cry on during difficult times.
Of course, not everyone can volunteer their time. However, many careers focus on mental health. If you're considering a career change, look into jobs like psychiatric nursing, social work, or psychology. These professionals play an essential role in diagnosing and treating mental illness. Let us tell you, public health job outlook and career paths are more favorable than ever.
Open Up the Conversation About Mental Health:
The average US life expectancy is 78.6 years. But for those suffering from mental illnesses, it ranges from 49 to 60 years. That's a staggering difference.
Therefore, destigmatizing mental health needs a national push. The initial step is to open up the conversation about mental health. At communal levels, conducting awareness campaigns and forums can do a world of good.
These awareness campaigns can highlight warning signs like changes in sleeping or eating habits, withdrawing from friends and activities, or exhibiting risky behavior. In addition, mass education on where to seek help and how to support a friend or family member going through a tough time is crucial.
Provide Mental Health Resources:
One-fifth of the US population lives in rural areas. Of these, about 65 million individuals have a mental illness. Though most psychiatric disorders exhibit similar prevalence rates in rural and urban areas, residents of rural communities face unique barriers to care. Social and geographic isolation doesn't make it any better.
The primary concern is the lack of access to mental health resources. There are fewer psychiatric providers and mental health facilities in these regions. It often leads to long wait times for appointments and a lack of continuity of care.
That's why community members need to band together and provide mental health resources for those in need. Mental health hotlines, support groups, and online resources can be lifesavers.
Promote Inclusive Communities:
Inclusive communities accept all individuals regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. These communities extend a sense of belonging and social support, which are essential for mental health.
When everyone feels like they belong in the community, they're more likely to participate in activities, volunteer their time, and support others. This sense of community strengthens social cohesion and leads to more resilient individuals.
Organizing events celebrating diversity and providing support for marginalized groups are just some ways to make your community more inclusive.
Provide Training for Mental Health First Aid:
Mental health incongruity is a reality in the US. For example, in 2017, one-third of American adults experienced symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
Mental Health First Aid educates participants on how to deal with mental illness and substance abuse through its 8-hour course. The goal is to help people developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.
The course covers a 5-step action plan: ALGEE.
Support Local Mental Health Initiatives:
Most communities have some form of mental health initiative in place. However, these initiatives are often underfunded and understaffed. For instance, many schools have difficulty providing adequate counseling services for students.
Similarly, mental health clinics in low-income neighborhoods are often understaffed and lack the resources to provide quality care.
On an individual level, volunteering and making financial contributions to these initiatives can make a big difference. You can also raise awareness about these initiatives in your community and encourage others to get involved.
However, on a larger scale, government policies and regulations must change to provide more funding for mental health initiatives. Increasing taxes on the wealthy, investing in public health, or redirecting funds from the military budget are practical ways to do this.
Encourage Physical Activity and Healthy Eating:
We all realize the benefits of exercise and healthy eating for our physical health. But did you know that they're also good for our mental health?
Exercise releases a hormone, endorphin, which has mood-boosting and pain-relieving effects. In addition, it improves sleep, increases energy levels, and reduces stress.
Even then, most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle and don't get enough exercise. And our diets are often full of processed foods high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.
You can help to change this in your community by promoting physical activity and healthy eating. For example, organize a community garden, start a walking group, or lead a healthy cooking class. You can also advocate for policies that make it easier for people to be physically active and eat healthy, such as building more parks and bike lanes or providing nutritional education in schools.
Incentivize Mental Health Days:
In the United States, we often view mental health as separate from physical health. It is reflected in our sick days' policy, which typically allows employees to take time off for physical illness. As a result, many people feel like they can't take time off for mental health reasons.
It needs to change. Incentivizing mental health days is a good start.
Employers could allow employees to use their sick days for mental health reasons without penalizing them. They could also offer additional paid days specifically for mental health. Similarly, schools could give students mental health days that don't count against their attendance.
The boundary between ourselves and the community is not as clear as we think. The people around us, our places, and our communities affect our mental health. Similarly, what we give back to the community in terms of time, energy, and care also impacts the mental health of those around us.
When we foster positive mental health in our communities, we create a foundation for individual well-being. Working together can build stronger, healthier, and more resilient communities. Start now, reap tomorrow.
Leave a Reply