(Forsyth County, GA) May is Mental Health Awareness Month, making it a great time to talk about this important issue, educate ourselves on local resources, and encourage people to take action.
Like many of you, I was thrilled to read that House Bill 1013, the Georgia mental health bill, unanimously passed last month in both the Georgia Senate and House. The fact that this bill was passed is a victory for all those activists who have fought for mental health awareness. We should celebrate this win, but also realize we’re just beginning the process of meaningful change. Now comes the equally challenging task of creating adequate treatment options and universal access to mental health resources. This is a daunting task for sure, but this new legislation will hopefully help those who are currently working in the field and inspire further innovation in mental health diagnosis, treatment, and access.
As a pediatrician, I’m not only concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. I am also curious about preventing them. Is this possible? Can we prevent anxiety and depression in our children? Life is filled with setbacks, disappointments, trauma, stress, and problems. Because of the nature of life, we will never be able to eliminate anxiety and depression. We can, however, help people become equipped for these challenges, which will hopefully lead to a happier, healthier life.
One way people can prepare for life’s mental and emotional challenges is to become more resilient. You may have heard the word resiliency a lot lately. Resiliency has become increasingly talked about since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. But what does it mean exactly, especially in regards to our mental health? When I think about resiliency, I envision a rubber band immediately snapping back in place after being stretched to its limit. Psychological resiliency is similar. It is the ability to return quickly back to your normal emotional or mental state after some type of crisis.
I became increasingly interested in resiliency during the pandemic. Like so many, I was trying to find ways to cope with the sudden changes in the world and in my life. I found a free class on Coursera called “Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills” by Karen Reivich, Ph.D. The course was enlightening and practical. When I finished, I wanted more, so I watched another Coursera class called “Brilliant, Passionate You” from the University of Michigan. The focus of this course is self-exploration and mindfulness. It is an entertaining and fun class that can also be used to build resilience. At that time, spring of 2020, resiliency was just starting to get popular and those were some of the only options available. Resiliency has gained a lot of traction in the past two years. There are now many different options available on many different platforms.
Once you begin the journey to resiliency, you will learn that a key part is developing coping skills. There are a vast number of resources helping people learn and master coping skills. There are apps like Headspace and Calm, there are YouTube channels, blogs, podcasts, books, magazines, Masterclasses and webinars.
Specific to children, there are several resources I’d like to share. Free your Feels is a mental health awareness campaign targeting Georgia’s youth and sponsored by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and Voices for Georgia’s Children. Resilient Georgia is an organization that brings together both private and public partners across the state to form a network of mental and behavioral health services and resources for children. Strong4Life is a program sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Strong4Life has a program called “Raising Resilience” which is an amazing and comprehensive resource. Raising Resilience includes materials that are categorized by age groups and gives age-appropriate tips for resilience training. There are articles, videos, and books. It is a fantastic resource and I encourage all parents to check it out. Specific to Forsyth County is United Way’s mental health website which provides local resources to our community.
Building resilience in our children won’t prevent them from experiencing life’s hardships, but it can protect them from some of the mental health crises we are seeing today. The process isn’t always easy, and it certainly does not happen instantly. It requires a commitment of time and practice and a willingness to learn new skills. But what a wonderful investment it is! The more skills we help our children learn, the more resilient they will become, and the better their lives will be.