By: Francesco Yepez-Coello
These past couple of years, it seems that every week there is another tragedy occurring all over the United States. The Washington Post reports that there have in fact been 44 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which had national coverage. That isn’t to mention the non school related incidents, such as the one in Isla Vista that occurred very recently I’m sure many of you heard about. With story upon story in the news of violent killings, the cycle of violence may leave many of us feeling helpless, and unable to stop them from occurring again.
Although the last particular shooting I mentioned has sparked a lot of debate over misogyny in our society, and with good reason, I propose that neither societal structure or regulation of firearms are exclusively responsible. Another giant factor that has lead to senseless violence is that each perpetrator was mentally ill, and there is plenty that each of us can do to ensure not only that we are healthy, but that our loved ones maintain a healthy lifestyle as well.
May has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America, an organization dedicated to helping people achieve mental health by changing policy, educating the public on mental health issues, and providing services that promote wellness to whichever indivual or community that requires them.
Although MHA works throughout the year reaching out to populations at risk of developing disorders and link them with professionals who can help, lobbying in Capitol Hill to ensure that laws facilitating the outreach of treatment to those who need it are passed, and the like, in May they make a particular effort of educating the community. Some of the programs they advocate include the “Live Your Life Well” program that summarizes their mission quite well.
The Center for Disease Control identified 13 different health concerns early last year they felt were the most critical they were going to combat. Among them are preventing the onset of mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, as well as putting an end to the violence; two problems they attribute to poor mental health. The Live Your Life Well campaign addresses these concerns by giving these helpful tips based on decades of research on the factors that promote wellness and prevents mental illness:
- Connect with others: Next time you think of a witty remark or complaint you need to post as a status on facebook, instead of posting it publicly, call up a friend and tell him about it yourself. Better yet, when you call them make plans to hang out and tell him in person. Connecting directly with people builds your relationships and the support group that may give you strength in times of need.
- Stay Positive: When faced with a problem, think of its solution rather than how difficult the problem is to begin with. Medicine shows a negative response to stress increases the likelihood of heart disease. Don’t give yourself extra problems by ruminating on the original one.
- Get physically active: Exercising can often be a drag for most of us, but it is actually shown to give us more energy throughout our day instead of wearing us out completely. Next time you have about an hour to kill, hit the gym. Better yet, do it with a buddy, there’s no need to be alone all the time.
- Help others: Next time you see someone who looks lost on campus, help them find their way. Or if you see someone carrying an absurd amount of books, offer to help him carry some to their next class. You don’t have to join the Peace Corps, but doing small things for people who could use your help will lift both your mood and theirs, readying you for what is next in your day.
- Get enough sleep: I wrote an article about this a while back.
- Create joy and satisfaction: Most college students I know are constantly stressed by the competitive nature of the job market and the grad school atmosphere. In your busy schedule, remember to make time to do things you enjoy. Read, watch netflix, play video games, whatever you like. But the simple pleasure of the activity will energize you so long as you do not
- Eat well: Good nutrition has obvious benefits, but it affects your mental health as well. Over or under eating are symptoms of many eating disorders, as well as depression. Next time you have a date, cook for them instead of taking them out to a restaurant. If you get cravings during those late nights after a party, make yourself a burger instead of getting one from the King. Making it yourself will make you question whether you really want it or not anyway.
- Take care of your spirit: Religion is an important and healthy source of strength for many. Talk to your appropriate religious leader in a time of need, it may help. GMU, for example, has a campus ministry that, although Catholic, would not turn away people of other faiths who are interested in talking to a priest. For all my secular brothers and sisters, do yoga. A powerful spirit will motivate you to accomplish your goals.
- Get professional help if you need it: It takes courage to admit when you cannot over come an obstacle alone, no matter how trivial or large it may be. If you feel overwhelmed, contact your school’s counseling and psychological services. MHA has a list of easy access tools you can use to find a mental health care provider near you as wellGMU CPS: 703 993 2380
CRISIS LINK: 1 800 273 TALK
MHA even made a cute little calendar that organizes each of these tips into short little activities you can do a few minutes a day to promote your own mental health and that of others. Although the month of May is coming to a close, you can apply these lessons to whichever month of the year.
There are even multiple groups that promote an open dialogue about mental health on a smaller scale. Pennsive is a blog in which U Penn students can anonymously share mental health stories in a safe, non judgemental environment. GMU students are developing their own blog of a similar nature, with posts coming soon! Active Minds chapters all over the nation advocate mental health, with GMU’s own former chapter president Melissa Simkol posting daily throughout May in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month on the group page on facebook.
Dealing with stress is important. It isn’t just people who are “ill” who should mind their mental health, but all of us. If we do not learn how to cope with the stresses of every day life or worse, we may not be equipped to face these challenges and still be able to lead a productive and meaningful life. For some, they are overwhelemed to the point that they resort to violence. Pass the calendar or the list of Live Your Life Well tips on to a friend- little by little, our community can become a brighter, healthier one!
“The Bizarre And Horrifying Autobiography Of A Mass Shooter.” Weblog post.Buzzfeed. N.p., 25 May 2014. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/the-bizarre-and-horrifying-autobiography-of-a-mass-shooter?bffb>.
“Mental Health America.” Mental Health Support. Mental Health America, n.d. Web. May 2014. <http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net>.
Strauss, Valerie. “At Least 44 School Shootings since Newtown — New Analysis.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/13/at-least-44-school-shootings-since-newtown-new-analysis/>.
United Sates of America. Center for Disease Control. CDC Blog. Center for Disease Control, 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://blogs.cdc.gov/cdcworksforyou24-7/2013/01/cdc-looks-ahead-13-public-health-issues-in-2013/>.