When we think of mental health, we often do so on an individual level—mental health is a personal, private matter. But mental health is also a public health issue, as I discuss on my latest podcast (episode #254) and blog with writer, speaker, therapist and wellness coach Minaa B. We talk about how justice and community work is vital mental health work, how to ask for help and overcome the guilt and shame of seeking help, how to recognize and set boundaries, how to stick to your boundaries, and more!
As Minaa points out, feeling safe and secure at home and in our community is a vital part of life, supporting healthy cognitive and physical development. This is why social justice is mental health work. If one part of the community is “aching”, then this affects everyone’s safety and security and mental peace.
Mental health is not just an interpersonal issue. It is a community issue. Domestic terrorism, gang violence, racial trauma, systematic inequalities and other collective issues can have profound effects on our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Unfortunately, in today’s world many of us have lost a strong sense of community, and is something that we need to continue to cultivate as we move forward in life. What does this mean? Minaa defines community care as, at its core,us tending to one another, caring for one another and holding each other accountable. We need to nurture our environment and address violence and inequality in our communities, such as access to safe housing, food and clean water. These issues are everyone’s issues, because they affect people’s sense of safety and security and their mental wellbeing and can be passed through communities as intergenerational trauma. Issues that are not addressed on both a communal and individual level can have long-term mental and physical health effects!
Let’s look at the racism, for instance. When a person is on the receiving end of racism, it can trigger and imbalance in their mental health; racial trauma can result in PTSD, depression, anxiety as well as physical problems like body aches and gut issues. It also impacts a person’s sense of self, because it implies that their very existence is a threat, or an “other”, and that they don’t belong—they are not worthy of the life they have. This kind of trauma can be passed through the generations, affecting a family’s health in the long-term, and can lead to all sorts of short and long-term issues in a community, including substance abuse disorders and violence. As Minaa points out, racial trauma is a public health issue.
We need to stop just seeing mental health as a private matter. Self-care is the bridge to community care, and community care is the bridge to community healing. All these things are connected.
Self-awareness shows us how we are lacking and how we can start building areas of connection. This kind of connection can happen in a lot of ways, even just going to church or the grocery store and saying hello to someone and calling them by their name. Connection is not just about securing a friend or partner. It is about securing a community: whose names do I know? How can I get to know the people I see frequently on a more interpersonal level? This is the foundation of community care. It is about building a bridge of empathy and compassion with people with whom we do not have an intimate relationship.
Indeed, an important part of community care is embracing diversity, and this can only be done when we make a choice to build connection in our communities. There is so much value when we can all come together and be open to being held accountable. How can we open ourselves up to both being heard and being a better listener? How can we learn and unlearn together?
Self-awareness is also the first step to healing intergenerational trauma. We need to learn how to see that a certain pattern of behavior and thinking in our life is not leading to our happiness and is just making us more and more miserable. This kind of self-awareness can develop in many ways: naturally over time, by looking backwards at your past and tapping into your inner child (are you repeating the family cycle or family behaviors?), as well as becoming aware of what the people around you are saying to you (such as “you have been drinking a lot lately, are you okay?”). We develop self-awareness when we make a habit of looking inward and at our past and present interactions, examining how we responded then, how we respond now, and how it is making us feel (What are the results? Is this working for us? Are we repeating family patterns?).
Of course, sometimes it can be hard to ask for or accept help, especially when it comes to mental health issues. Minaa has some great tips if you find seeking help challenging:
1. Cultivate your community. Who are the people in your circle that you can ask for help? Are you surrounded by people that you trust?
2. Think about what is getting in the way of you asking for help. For example, do you feel like you are a burden if you ask for help? Do you feel like you are supposed to be able to handle this on your own? Do you feel that your culture doesn’t encourage you to ask for help? Do you see help in a negative way? Why?
3. Work on reframing how you see asking for help over time.
4. Practice developing healthy boundaries and recognizing what boundaries are. This will help you ask for help in a healthier way and not take things personally when people say no because you recognize that they have their own boundaries and that this is important for their own wellbeing.
5. When someone needs your help, ask yourself if you have the capacity to do what they are asking. Don’t just say yes because you have a relationship with that person; remember that it is okay to have boundaries! Separate out the person and the problem.
Remember, as Minaa notes, if your goal is growth and healing, then asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you wise!
For more on community care and mental health, listen to my podcast with Minaa (episode #254) and check her websiteand Instagram. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
For more help on managing your thinking and dealing with trauma and mental health issues, preorder my new book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess (and receive exclusive bonuses!) and check out my SWITCH app and our most recent clinical trials.
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1:47 Why Minaa B. does what she does, and why mental health work is more than just working on your own issues
3:00 Why social justice work is mental health work
14:15 How self-care and community care are related
25:10 Why racism is a public health issue
31:30 How to heal from intergenerational trauma
20:45 Why it is okay to be the problem
43:10 How to ask for help
52:00 Why boundaries are important when helping others
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