Challenge issued

Kari Swanson

May is Mental Health Month.

Really, mental health should be recognized every day, every month. However, the powers that be have designated May as the month to recognize and acknowledge mental health.

Why is this important? Mental health needs to be acknowledged in the work place, the school environment and in the community. We are all affected, one way or another by mental health, either our own or those around us. Having an understanding of someone’s behaviors not just being because they “are jerks,” but being because there may be a legitimate underlying mental health cause can help de-escalate our own impulsive reactions. Someone that is Bipolar has extreme difficulties with mood fluctuations and being non compliant with medications makes anyone vulnerable to mood swings and impulsive behaviors. It is important that we don’t rush to judgment over someone’s behaviors, quick reckless decisions, etc.

I’m not saying that we need to excuse people for their behaviors and choices because of their mental health issues, if they have them. I am saying that it is important to not judge people.

It is important to recognize that we all go through situations differently and that we all have our own struggles, our bad days and our bad choices. We really do not know what someone else is struggling with and what they are using to cope. Their choices, good or bad, are still their choices but honestly mental health issues certainly impact a person’s choice making abilities. Especially if those mental health issues are not being professionally treated, maintained or are being self-medicated by the person experiencing them.

This is why kindness, a simple act, a smile, a kind word goes a long way with people, especially people who are down on themselves, think they don’t matter to others or are so frustrated with their struggles they have thought of giving up on life.

For the month of May, the Warren County School District has partnered with Beacon Light Behavioral Health System, Systems of Care, Forest/Warren Human Services and the Warren County commissioners to promote kindness as a means to help promote positive mental health and help those struggling recognize that others care.

The elementary students have been reading a book on Humphrey, this cool hamster who tries to help others solve problems in the school environment where he resides and in the home environment when he goes home with students on weekends.

I loved these books and read every book in the series to my sons when they were younger. I was so excited when I learned that the school district purchased a book for each child to read at home with their parents to promote reading.

The elementary students will be receiving a picture of Humphrey beginning May 6 to color and to write an act of kindness that Humphrey could do in the school, home or community environments. Students are encouraged to follow through with the act of kindness they come up with.

I encourage parents to ask their children what act of kindness they came up with or help brainstorm with them for the next couple weeks different examples of acts of kindness that they could do so that they are prepared when the activity is given to them. These pictures and written acts of kindness will be displayed on the wall of all the elementary schools in the district. In addition, they will be available for parents to view on the Facebook and/or webpages of the individual schools.

The middle and high school students will have a “wall of kindness” located in specific areas of each school in which they, as well as staff, will be encouraged to write kind thoughts, wishes or quotes on sticky notes and place them on the wall. These walls will also be available for viewing on the various school Facebook and/or webpages.

In addition to these visual acts of kindness, students will hear mental health moments and kindness quotes on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the month of May on the speaker system of each school, elementary, middle and high, during the morning announcements. This is a way to continue to educate our youth about the impact that kindness has on those that struggle with mental health issues and those that don’t, as well as to increase their awareness of mental health facts.

I challenge workplaces, churches, restaurants, community businesses, and individual families to engage in a kindness board, wall, door, window or refrigerator where individuals can place their kind thoughts or kindness quotes to be displayed to welcome others and to leave others with comforting words.

This could also be as simple as displaying a chalk written kindness message on the window of a business or home.

This is a way that the community could recognize what our youth are being encouraged to do and support those efforts by modeling those same behaviors.

How cool would it be for a youth to walk into a downtown business and see a kindness wall and connect this to what he/she is doing at school? Or a youth walking by a business and see a chalk written kindness message on the window?

This is also a way for our community to share a part in mental health month and take an active role in recognizing this.

At the end of the month, pictures of Humphrey and the kindness walls will be displayed in a final symposium on a date and time to be determined and announced in the paper at the Slater Room of the Warren Public Library.

Please send your business, restaurant or individual family kindness wall, board, window, door or fridge to the Times Observer’s Facebook page via Messenger in order for those pictures to be included in the final symposium at the Warren Public Library at the end of May.

On May 8 at 6 p.m., retired Detective Nancy Lombardo will be speaking at Warren High School auditorium to the community on internet safety and the impact that the internet plays in the mental health of our youth as well as adults. Nancy spoke at a school personal development day for teachers and administration on human trafficking and she is a wonderful speaker with a lot of experience and knowledge in the areas of safety measures. This will be a very worthwhile 40 minutes for whoever attends.

On May 20, another mental health month event will be taking place at the Youngsville Fire Department at 6:30 p.m. Jermaine Galloway, “Tall Cop,” will be presenting and discussing drugs and alcohol, what is in our community and how we can stop it. Drugs and alcohol play a significant role in mental health, as many people use such to self-medicate without getting the proper mental health treatment and then, in turn, develop a substance abuse disorder. This is a serious topic and one that we all need to take active roles in stopping. Please come out and hear his presentation.

I encourage and challenge everyone to be part of the events and activities being offered for mental health month, but more importantly, I encourage you to take these activities and make them part of your everyday lifestyle to promote kindness among the people of our communities and remember to have understanding and tolerance to those situations and people that make us uncomfortable. If you don’t understand something gets information and educate yourself. Remember to not cast judgment. It is so easy to judge someone, thinking we would do things differently, however, if we are not in the situation nor ever have been, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge, understanding, compassion, and kindness.

These activities and events being planned for May are designed to do just that.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.

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