Take Action on World Mental Health Day

October 10 is World Mental Health Day and I encourage you to take action. Taking action may have a different meaning for each of us and that is good, because mental health needs are different for everyone. I personally am not a trained counselor or therapist, but I do like to help others. My father suffered from mental health issues and I can personally share the impact it can have on him, his family, and friends. 

While you cannot act as a therapist for your own friends and family, simply sharing and listening can be enough. Providing a non-judgmental ear, and sharing your own experiences can encourage someone who is struggling to reach out to professionals.

The campaign is being launched by the World Health Organization. I am more of a resource sort of individual, so with that said, I want to share the campaign materials that focus on depression and suicide. According to the CDC, 40% of Americans are struggling with depression. This is compared to 11% pre-COVID. The campaign materials include eight resource materials targeting various audiences. Instead of sharing them in this blog, go check out the site

Recently I was certified to teach Mental Health First Aid. MHFA teaches people how to help someone developing a mental health problem or someone experiencing a mental health crisis. It helps you to identify, understand, and respond. You learn about depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, and substance abuse disorders. The eight hour course is available online or blended, and you can participate in it here.

I would also like to promote some of the work of my fellow colleagues in University of Maryland Extension. The project is titled, Maryland Rural Opioid Technical Assistance program. The focus is to increase rural capacity to identify, respond to, and address opioid-related needs for prevention through research and outreach. They offer a variety of workshops including Mental Health First Aid, most of which are no charge.

While helping others is always commendable, maintaining your own mental health is also important. I ask you to take action on World Mental Health Day — reach out to friends and family, and remember to take time for self-care.

Cheap (Or Free!) Summer Activities

Right around the corner is summer! It’s time to start thinking about how to spend your time with the warm days and late evenings, especially after being stuck inside for the past year —  getting outside for your physical and mental health is important. Unfortunately, for many of us, we are facing financial hardships whether it be from the impacts of COVID-19 or in the increasing price of goods. Some of us just want to save some money. Whatever the reason, I would like to share a few ideas for cheap or free summer activities to get you and your family outside.

Summer Concerts – Cities both large and small host concerts and festivals to promote downtown revitalization efforts. Check your local tourism website or listen to your local radio station for more information. 

Couple walking and holding hands in the park

Local, State, and National Parks – The activities at parks are endless. You can pack a lunch and enjoy the outdoors. There are an endless number of trails to hike. Depending on the park, you may have the opportunity to sit by the pool or even the beach. Many parks offer educational programs and children’s activities. To find out more visit the website of your local park or your travel destination. 

Museums – When you think of museums, you often think of large museums like the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. Many people don’t realize that small museums are located throughout towns and counties, and are often tied to historical events in the community. 

Libraries – Local libraries offer much more than just books. Libraries coordinate activities for both youth and adults. It is also a meeting place for groups and organizations who provide free activities that are open to the public. Ask your local librarian for a list of summer programming. In addition to books, check out the audio tapes and videos that are also available. 

Fishing – I just could not help but add fishing to the list. If you are an adult, you will probably need to get a license. Some areas offer license-free fishing spots or days, but make sure you find out the rules in the location you plan to fish. In the late spring and early summer, you may be able to find a free fishing derby for youth. Some of my best memories as a child are fishing. It’s fun, entertaining and relaxing all at the same time. 

I listed just a few activities that you can engage in with little or no cost. The opportunities are almost endless, you just need to spend a few minutes searching on the internet for what is available in your area. To start, visit your local tourism board. This will give you an idea of what the major events are in your area. When it comes to parks, visit the website for your state or county’s park service. You will find there are more parks out there than you realize with many within a short drive. 

Whatever you decide to do this summer, stay busy and active. Take a break from your television or computer screen. Remember that getting out improves both your physical and mental health.

Coping is Not a Race

You Cannot “Win” at Mental Health in 2020

We have all been trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic now for seven months. Every day we have experiences that we must try to fit into a larger story about how we wish to emerge on the other side of this crisis. Some of us may use the analogy that coping with the pandemic and 2020, in general, is a marathon, not a sprint. However, the notion that any of this is a race at all needs to be dispelled.


One of the biggest challenges in responding to the slew of losses and uncertainty that has characterized 2020 has been to find meaning in it all. Meaning-making is an essential task of coping with loss, and it is one that is often glossed over. Furthermore, meaning-making (and coping with loss in general) is an ongoing process.

Mental health gained a huge amount of attention this year. As quickly as news spread about the pandemic, social scientists began predicting a spike in mental health needs. This was helpful in that it reduced the stigma of having public discussions on coping with mental health issues. We have seen friends, family, even celebrities share what they have done to cope. Sharing our stories of resilience with others is a normal and necessary part of making meaning.

The stories of resilience have been broad and inspiring. Some found meaning in developing new skills while at home. Some have turned to more regular exercise or meditation. Others have found meaning in simply embracing the slowness of spending more time at home. Perhaps you have encountered these stories in your social media feeds or Zoom calls with friends.

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

Witnessing others’ “winning” at resilience might inspire you, or it could make you feel like what you have been doing is not enough. It might even feel like you are losing some kind of race to the imaginary finish line of emotional stability. If you find yourself feeling behind, it is time for two quick reminders about coping with loss.

  1. Other people’s stories deserve validation and praise, but they are not goal markers for anyone else’s progress. Only you can tell the story of what resilience looks like for you. In figuring that story out, a therapist can help, but so can a friend or understanding family member. The key is to keep talking.
  2. Resolving the feelings associated with loss is not a linear process. It is normal to not have a straight line of improvement when experiencing such significant, ongoing losses as many of us have during 2020.

Take these reminders as a nudge toward self-compassion. You have to forgive yourself for not following a straight line to recovery. A focus on self-blame and comparison to others will only interrupt the process of finding meaning and a story that carries you through the stressful days that are ahead.

Special guest post by Alexander Chan, Behavioral Health Specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.

Practice Self-Care During the Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been stuck in the house, consuming new information, working from home, while also taking care of our loved ones. We have been practicing “social distancing” and staying indoors. This can take a toll on our mental health and it is important that we stop and take some time each day to practice self-care. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-2302332-originalWhat is Self Care? 

Self-care is an activity or practice that we do purposely to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. It is time we take for ourselves to recharge and feel good. By practicing self-care you choose a simple activity that makes you feel good and incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine. One way to practice self-care is to write it in a calendar and also tell others to help increase your commitment. An increase in self-care activities has been seen to improve one’s mood as well as reduce stress and anxiety. It also has positive effects on our self-esteem and self-awareness. 

How To Practice Self-Care? 

  • Take a Break from the News 

Different platforms such as social media, online news sources and websites, and the tv, have constantly been putting out information about COVID-19, and we are being bombarded by messaging, which can be stressful. One thing you can do each day to practice self-care is to take a break from those platforms, helping to decrease stress and anxiety. 

  • Eat Healthy 

image-from-rawpixel-id-435608-jpegNourishing your body during this time is very important because it is the foundation of health. You don’t have to “diet” but eating healthy fruits and vegetables daily can help you feel good throughout the day. Cooking a healthy delicious meal for yourself or your family can be a good practice of self-care because you’re taking your time to provide a well balanced and nourishing meal. 

  • Exercise

image-from-rawpixel-id-2317499-originalNot being able to go to the gym has taken a toll on many of us, but it shouldn’t stop you from exercising at home. Exercising is a good practice of self-care because it can improve your mood and also releases endorphins to make you feel good. It increases your energy and can help you maintain a healthy weight while at home. There are many different apps and videos online to help you work out right in the comfort of your living room. 

  • Do Stress-Reducing Meditation 

Mediation is one form of great self-care. It is a calming activity used to help you release stress and anxiety. Mediation can be done daily for about 10 minutes and it can help improve your health as well as sleep. Self-care must include taking time to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions. 

During these times we can easily feel worn-out and have a lack of energy but a little self-care each day can go a long way to helping you feel motivated and optimistic. 

This post written by River Philbert, Class of 2020, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland.

 

After You Breathe – Three Ways to Cope with the Ambiguous Losses of the Pandemic

Special guest post written by Alexander E. Chan., Ph.D., LMFT ; State Specialist – Mental & Behavioral Health; University of Maryland Extension – Family and Consumer Sciences

African american woman is sitting thoughtfully

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantines began, social scientists have jump started the coping process by labeling an experience we are all facing: grief

Grief may result from human losses, such as the death of a loved one, or it can result from ambiguous losses like cancelled graduations, no goodbyes to your kindergarten teacher, missing the enjoyment of prior daily routines. Both types of loss are happening right now. Anger, sadness, anxiety – these are all part of our unique responses to loss. They are like emotional weeds growing from the roots of grief. 

There are coping strategies for all of the symptoms of loss. Please practice (or learn, if you haven’t yet) those deep breathing techniques. However, the ongoing challenge is to make sense of our new realities – a process mental health experts call meaning-making. This process helps us cope with the mismatch we are experiencing now between our old views of the world (more familiar to us) and what we see now. 

Here is how you begin the work: 

image-from-rawpixel-id-2317500-originalThink about how you want to emerge from this crisis. What will it say about you that you lived through this crisis? Will you have developed any new habits or ways of appreciating your daily life? Will you have learned to cook a different food? You may need to think out loud with a trusted friend, partner, or therapist on this task. 

Meaning-making is both personal and inter-personal with others. This is not going to happen in one sitting. This is like reading a book – you pick it up for a while, then put it back on the shelf while you do other things. You can always come back to it when you are ready.

Support others by acknowledging their efforts, but don’t let others make meaning for you. A friend may find meaning by becoming a runner, crafting or cooking. You might not. That’s okay. They need you to recognize their process just as much as you need them to give credit to yours. Without this validation, the process stalls for everyone. If some of the conversations feel repetitive, that’s ok. Repeatedly talking about difficult topics helps us master them rather than avoid them. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-2320261-originalWelcome all emotions daily. On any given day, allow yourself to laugh, cry, and everything in between. Mindfulness training can help you non-judgmentally accept whatever emotions you are currently experiencing. 

 

These coping strategies can help address the roots of grief. However, the strategies require ongoing attention and use. You may repeatedly experience difficult emotions like anger, sadness and anxiety throughout the process. It is to be expected. Each time you use one of these coping strategies, you are building up a mindset that will help you manage your life in our new reality.

Holiday Mindfulness: Relieve stress through mindfulness techniques

image-from-rawpixel-id-1289-jpeg.jpgThe holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but according to the American Psychological Association, almost 40% of Americans also feel it’s one of the most stressful. Gift shopping, crowds, cooking and cleaning; the pressure to enjoy a perfect holiday can take its toll on even the most festive.

Described as an awareness and active attention to the present moment, mindfulness can be an effective way to reduce some of the stress in your holidays, and in your life everyday. In a University of Maryland Extension publication, FCS educator Dhruti Patel, provides simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into our everyday lives to reduce stress.

  • Meditation: Practicing mindfulness is at the heart of meditation, encouraging you to focus on the present moment rather than ruminate on the past or worry about the future.
  • Breathing: Pay attention to your breathing patterns, especially when in an overwhelming or stressful situation, not only when meditating or exercising.
  • Physical activity: Incorporate stretching, walking or yoga into your daily routine.
  • Play: Interacting with a child or pet can help bring you into the moment, without focus on past or present.
  • Be creative: Mindfulness is associated with creative endeavors like art, coloring, Zentangle, and journaling.

Cultivating mindfulness can take some practice, but can be incorporated into any task, from brushing your teeth to reading a book. Mindfulness can not only provide you with a peace of mind (not just during the holidays!) but can even improve your physical health by boosting the immune system, managing pain and chronic diseases, implementing healthier habits and improving brain function.

Learn more about stress and your health at https://extension.umd.edu/learn/publications/stress-and-health.

 

Opioid Awareness, Resources and Mental Health 

Editor’s Note: This post was written by our Family & Consumer Sciences intern, Caroline Triay, University of Maryland Communications major, Class of 2021

 

Drugs and pills on the table

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drug overdose has become the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States. Over 70,000 people died in 2017, and nearly 50,000 of those deaths were because of opioid and prescription drug misuse. 

Many opioid addictions start at home. Leftover prescription pills and shared medicine cabinets can make these drugs easily accessible to the whole household.  

Not only does abusing opioid prescription drugs damage physical health, but it also takes a toll on mental wellbeing. Leaving mental health untreated when recovering from addiction can cause additional burdens on the abuser making the recovery process more painful. 

Opioid misuse is linked to anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. Opioids could also potentially become a gateway to other drugs such a heroin. Psycom shares helpful tips on spotting opioid addiction: 

  • Consuming opioid drugs for longer or larger amounts than prescribed
  • Spending prolonged time using or obtaining the drug
  • Craving opioids
  • Opioid use interferes with everyday routines such as school, work, or home life
  • Continuing to use drugs even if they strain relationships

Once it is clear that you or a loved one suffers from opioid addiction, immediate action should be taken to address the medical concerns that come with withdrawal. Because mental illness may arise in the recovery process of opioid abuse, it is necessary to strengthen wellbeing through additional programs. Psycom also includes effective treatment options that address mental illnesses that could develop. 

A woman taking medicine

  • Addiction and depression peer group support 
  • Intensive counseling
  • Additional medication for addiction and depression
  • Customized treatment plan
  • Family counselling

The opioid epidemic has become a serious and deadly problem in the United States. Know the addiction risks of taking opioids, and be cautious of taking medications, using them as prescribed by your doctor. Your physical and mental health are at stake. 

For more resources, or to learn more about how Extension is working to strengthen communities dealing with this issue, go to https://go.umd.edu/iiC.