Mental Health is Community Health

After decades of working in addiction and mental health, I can say one thing with absolute confidence: everyone at some point experiences some kind of mental or emotional “dis-ease”.   Those raised by the most loving parents still question their worth sometimes. The most optimistic people I know still feel despair when they experience loss. Mental health is a continuum, and all of us move back and forth from relative peace to various levels of dis-ease throughout our lives. While the majority of us may not struggle with serious mental illness, we all know the depths of emotional pain, and it should give us a common place to begin discussing how important mental health is for everyone.

As the leader of the World Health Organization famously said, “There is no Health without Mental Health.” In 2019, United Way of Hall County, working with local agencies, included addressing the issues of mental health and behavioral disorders as part of their One Hall initiative. This fall, that effort will launch a campaign to start a conversation in the community about mental health as an important piece of our overall health. Our goal is to learn together as a community – employers, friends and family members -how to reach out to one another for support by sharing our struggles and identifying resources to help each other.

For many of us, improving our mental health will mean learning new tools for handling stress, strengthening relationships and avoiding practices which could cause mild depression or unproductive anxiety. Current research shows that what has been thought of as old wisdom: meditation, meaningful relationships, and physical exercise can positively impact our mental health in ways that are measurable and sustainable. This appears to be true for all of us: for those experiencing relative mental health and for those with long-term mental illness when used in conjunction with medication and therapy.

As a person in long-term recovery, I am grateful for the tools I have learned through decades of following my recovery model.  When I began, I can honestly say I thought the tools were useless – that I was too sick – or too special – for something so simple to help me. But I began anyway. In spite of my doubts, and with the help of a remarkable circle of strangers who became friends, I have enjoyed 37 years of a life free from alcohol and drugs. Caring for your mental health and wellness requires a sincere and honest effort, so you can find the resources and use the tools that best work for you. Sometimes the answers are simple. Sometimes they are not.

One Hall is collaboratively working with other community agencies and individuals to create more knowledge about mental health and the resources that are available. Families struggling with mental illness face ongoing stressors which can lead to lost jobs, high medical costs, and in some cases incarceration and prolonged poverty. By removing the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness, we can work more effectively to address problems that must be faced by the community as a whole if we are to make real improvements. A mentally fit community is a stronger community.