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Friday September 25th 2020

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Focus on Mental Health in the Backyard

By Janice Barbee, Cultural Wellness Center

Community residents participating in the Backyard Initiative have identified “mental health” as one focus for their work to improve the health of all residents. At their past few monthly meetings, members of the Community Commission on Health and Citizen Health Action Teams (CHATs) of the Backyard Initiative (BYI) have been discussing which health condition all the CHATs would work on together. Community members have named many different aspects of mental health, such as stress, depression, and chemical dependency as having a significant impact on overall health. In the community health assessment conducted in 2009, the top health conditions that residents reported experiencing in the last five years were stress (51%), depression (21%), and high blood pressure (21%).

The BYI is a partnership between Allina Health Systems and the community surrounding Allina headquarters (the four neighborhoods of Phillips, Central, Powderhorn Park, and Corcoran) to develop ways to improve the health of the community. Resident-run CHATs are now implementing their health strategies and are accountable to the Community’s Commission on Health, a group of primarily community residents who are also members of a CHAT.

Mental Health = Healthy Community

At the end of April the CHAT members discussed how each of their projects is addressing mental health and what mental health means to them. People listed the indicators of not being mentally healthy as stress, anxiety, anger, lack of trust, sadness, apathy, hopelessness, helplessness, fear, grief, sense of loss, and feeling isolated.

The Wisdom of the Community

After discussing in small groups how their projects are impacting mental health, the CHAT members reported to each other what their conclusions were. What emerged from the discussion was a picture of a healthy community, because everyone affirmed that a healthy community is what it takes for people to be mentally healthy. The most frequent word linked to mental health was connection – people need connection to each other, to their heritage and culture, to something bigger than themselves.

  • “We’re trying to get people to be connected and trust each other because that’s the biggest thing that will affect people’s state of mental health.”
  • “Connectedness helps people find purpose in their life — they get plugged in and connect and that gives them the energy for their health.”
  • “It seems like people care more about themselves because people care about them.”
  • “Connecting, communication is health.”
  • “Being able to connect with community, with neighbors, with your old cultural heritage because then you can know what’s inside you, where you come from, your roots, and you are self-aware — that’s mental health.”
  • “Acceptance of who you are and where you are is important.”
  • “If I was going to summarize mental health, I [would quote] e.e. cummings: ‘I am through you so I.’ That’s the closest way I can think of how we’re connected …”
  • “We [need to] reach across… boundaries and dialogue together more than just when something bad happens.
  • “I think we’re rebirthing our community here – showing people how to cook, how to be connected, how to be a community again.”
  • “If one of us is in trouble, we all are in trouble, if one of us is stuck, we all are stuck, if one of us is in despair, we are all in despair and we need to work on it.”

What Mental Health and a Healthy Community Looks Like

CHAT members painted the following picture of mental health, which also describes what the CHATs are helping to make happen through their projects:

When people are mentally healthy, they are:

  • Connected to each other
  • Connected to their culture
  • Taking care of themselves
  • Feeling supported
  • Feeling heard
  • Sharing culture, experiences
  • Showing others they care
  • Trusting each other
  • Full of energy and purpose
  • Working together
  • Making music together
  • Expressing themselves, their spirit
  • Feeling they are a part of something greater than themselves
  • Able to resolve conflict; nothing is allowed to fester
  • Feeling balanced overall – through the ups and downs of life
  • Understanding perfection is not possible
  • Accepting themselves
  • Teaching, mentoring each other
  • Connecting across generations, through time
  • Talking to each other
  • Doing things together
  • Doing things for each other

All community residents are invited to the first BYI community forum on Friday, June 24th, from 8 – 10 AM at the Cultural Wellness Center. The topic will be health care policy. All Backyard residents are also welcome to come to the community meetings on the 3rd Thursday of every month at 5 PM. The Cultural Wellness Center is located at 1527 East Lake Street in the Franklin Bank Building. Call the Cultural Wellness Center at 621-721-5745 for more information.

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