The sun is shining … the birds are singing … the azaleas are blooming! Since the rain clouds went away, it seems everyone is in a better mood. Or maybe my heightened mood just gives me a different perspective. Either way, in the few weeks of spring sunshine before the 90-degree temperatures set in, all I want to do is spend my free time outside. So much so that I am willing to clean up the porch and backyard to plant flowers.
Let me state for the record that I do not have a green thumb. That said, I really love planting annuals in the spring with my husband and daughter. Planting flowers and watching them grow gives such a sense of accomplishment that is often hard to come by in our daily lives. With yardwork there is a very distinct beginning and end. When you have completed your task, you can immediately sit back and admire your work. Some might call this instant gratification. Often in our work or home lives projects take months or even years to complete or are followed so closely with another project there is little time for basking in the satisfaction of completion.
The interesting thing about flowers is that if you continue to care for them, they will grow and blossom throughout spring resulting in delayed gratification as well. Unlike annuals, in our lifetimes we only get one body and one mind. Like annuals, however, continual care of both is necessary. So why is it that we don’t tend to them more and treat them better?
According to a 2007 study in JAMA Internal Medicine about 44 million Americans get a wellness exam every year. This is only a fraction of the 327 million people residing in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults lives with a mental illness. These range in degree of severity from mild to severe. NIMH reports only 42.6% of adults with mental illness received mental health services in 2017. Mental health services include having received inpatient treatment/counseling or outpatient treatment/counseling, or having used prescription medication for problems with emotions, nerves, or mental health.
If we are willing to submit to a wellness exam for our bodies, why would we not do the same for our minds? I recently read an article about a collaboration between Paul Quinn College in southern Dallas and UT Medical Center to provide a mental health screen for all incoming students at Paul Quinn. The college administration recognized over 40% of their students come from poverty-stricken areas and a great number of them experienced trauma in some form or fashion before arriving on campus. Rather than waiting for students to experience depression or anxiety brought on in part by the normal stress of college, Paul Quinn seeks to squelch it before it begins. This initial mental health screen also has the added benefit of removing the stigma some students may associate with seeking mental health counseling.
Prevention is often the best medicine. If we are willing to take a walk around the block for our bodies, shouldn’t we also be willing to take proactive measures for our mental health? There is a clear correlation between mental and physical health. People with chronic medical conditions are more likely to suffer from depression. Perhaps more surprising is that the inverse is also true. According to NIMH, people suffering from depression have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease and are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
We know physical exercise helps physical outcomes. There is also mounting evidence that it reduces stress and anxiety. Unlike changes in physical health which often take months to see, the short-term mood elevation that comes from exercise is immediately gratifying. According to the American Psychological Association, not only is the link between exercise and mood strong, but the effects of physical activity have been shown to help somewhat to alleviate long-term depression.
Finally, what about doing something for the mind just for the sake of mental health. Meditation is a simple, fast way to reduce stress. The Mayo Clinic reports medication may help people manage symptoms of a number of conditions including anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
There is no silver bullet to protecting our minds and bodies entirely from illness. That said, the takeaway of all these statistics is that the relationship between our minds and bodies is symbiotic which means we must simultaneously care for both. We would not (or should not) buy new tires for a car without replacing worn-out breaks. We should care for the mind just as we care for the body since we only get one shot.
For those suffering from mental health issues there is no substitute for receiving the proper medical treatment and/or counseling. If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate support or intervention, please call or go to the website of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on March 23, 2019.