Health and Wellness: We can do better with mental health
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
According to Mental Health America’s latest report, Colorado is the lowest-ranked state in the country for adult mental health.
This is in a country where one in five Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition. In addition, a study by Colorado Rural Health Center found that the rates of suicide are 62% higher in rural Colorado than urban areas. This is a very real and raw issue in our community, and we need to do better. We have lost too many friends, too many of us are struggling and it is time for these statistics to change.
We write this column from a citizen’s vantage — we are not licensed mental health counselors. But that’s the point: Talking about mental health needs to become a normal part of our everyday conversations.
Yes, we believe everybody needs to see a professional therapist, but we also believe that as friends, coworkers, partners and even strangers, we can be more present in our conversations with others. And the more we regularly talk about mental health, the faster we can break down the stigma surrounding it.
There are so many components and factors that affect mental health, and we certainly can’t solve every issue for those who are struggling. But we can check in more often, ask them how they are doing (and actually listen to the answer), and yes, we can hug people again.
Please, hug your friends. Research has shown that human touch calms our nervous system, lowers blood pressure and eases depression. Conversely, studies have also found that when people lack human touch, they experience a decreased immune function, higher cortisol levels and increased anxiety.
So, what does this look like in our daily lives? Here are five ways we can make a difference as individuals:
- Make a list of people you think might be struggling and keep it in your planner. Call or text one person from that list once a week.
- Next time someone seems stressed or a little off, take five minutes with them to check in or ask how you can help.
- Stick to your word and follow through with plans. You never know why someone might have asked you to meet up, and be open to doing things for others, rather than only if it’s convenient for you.
- Pay attention. Don’t take people’s comments on their mental health or outlook on life lightly. Suggest therapy or reach out to their family and friends if you’re concerned.
- Listen. Really listen. Practice listening without formulating your next comment or preparing your advice. Try to truly hear what they are saying and pause before giving your input.
And if you are struggling, know there are so many ways to feel better or to get help. Here are five things we can do to improve our mental health:
- Call your closest friend. Know you are not burdening them; it makes people feel good to be trusted and to help. Let them know how you are doing.
- Talk to a professional. There are so many options available now, including online, texting and in-person therapy. Many places offer income-based or sliding-scale services so finances are not a limitation.
- Consider finding a coach. There are coaches for recovery, life, business, wellness, nutrition and more. A life coach can help you clarify your goals and overcome obstacles, and a recovery coach is a great way to help you stay sober in your recovery journey.
- Move your body. Movement and exercise release dopamine and serotonin and quite literally makes us happier. Go for a walk along the river, ride your bike, trail run with the dog, do some burpees, or drop into a yoga class. “I regret that workout,” said no one ever.
- Of course, for serious situations, get help immediately. There is a nationwide mental health hotline now. All you have to do is dial 988 and someone will be there for you. Other local resources include REPS (SteamboatSuicidePrevention.com) or sobriety-support groups like SoBoat Steamboat (find us on Facebook or Instagram).
It is important to recognize that you can be both the helper and the person in need, and sometimes this happens simultaneously. But often, when we help others, we also help ourselves. Studies have shown that when we are generous with our time or resources, it activates the parts of our brain for pleasure and reward, making us happier. Any level of helping others improves our support system, reduces feelings of isolation, and increases our self-worth.
In short, we urge our community to take more action. If you are tired or struggling, the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference (it takes about five seconds to send a “thinking of you” text). Our friends need us, our community needs us. Most of all, we need to help others in order to help ourselves. So please offer a listening ear, a heartfelt embrace or share a meal, and most of all, be kind. We can do better, starting today.
Sisters Sarah Coleman and Keller Northcut were born and raised in Steamboat with a passion for helping others. Coleman is a wellness and recovery coach and personal trainer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Northcut is a freelance writer. Her work can be found at KellerNorthcutt.com.
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