Public Health Week 2021: Uplifting Mental Health and Wellness
Behavior Health Committee Members (listed alphabetically):
As we send our young ones back to school over the next several weeks in Washington State, there is both a sigh of relief and increased anxiety. The toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on all people of all ages, social sectors, and economic brackets is palpable and well-known. What we are also learning is that the toll on the mental & behavioral health of school-aged people and their educators has been far more severe than we anticipated. It is not simply that they may “fall behind” academically and developmentally, but that the lack of social connection coupled with stressed to distressed home lives has cultivated and deepend the level of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and death by suicide in our school-aged people. However, this was already a growing challenge before the pandemic, and a challenge that teachers, paraeducators, and other school personnel have been struggling to meet for many years. How do we tend to the mental and emotional needs of school-aged people alongside all of the other things that we have to witness and manage during school hours and beyond? How do we understand that what we are seeing in this population is actually a mental and emotional challenge or hurdle versus a learning or food insecurity obstacle? Faculty at the UW Bothell School of Nursing and Health Studies are working in conjunction with Renton School District in WA State to help educators and other school personnel do exactly that: understand the mental and emotional challenges in the classroom or school activities in real-time and how they affect behavior and could affect the management of behavior. What we know from a public health perspective is that mental and emotional health plays an important and contributory role in other health outcomes that are public and community health concerns, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. We also know that mental and emotional health challenges are cumulative and often start early in the school-aged population. If we tackle and mitigate some of these challenges alongside teachers, school staff and families and re-tool them for mental & behavioral health work in schools, while using an anti-oppression lens in this work, we have a chance of being preventive for our next and upcoming generations
Chaddha, A, Robinson E., A., Kline-Rogers, E., Alexandris-Souphis, T., & Rubenfire, M. (2016). Mental health and cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Medicine, 129(11), 1145-1148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.05.018
Werner-Seidler, A., Perry, Y., Calear, A. L., Newby, J. M., & Christensen, H. (2017). School-based depression and anxiety prevention programs for young people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychological Review, 51, 30-47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2016.10.005
Collegiate Mental Health:
University life can be fun. At the same time, it can be stressful with academic responsibilities, interpersonal conflicts, significant life events, and more. Student mental health in higher education has long been a concern, and now the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us extra challenges. Fruehwirth and her colleagues (2021) assessed the mental health among university students in the United States and found that the prevalence of anxiety and depression increased during the pandemic. To reduce the negative mental health consequences of the pandemic, the authors suggested finding ways to reduce social isolation during the pandemic. One way to do so is through social connectedness. Faculty and staff in SNHS and other schools at UW Bothell have been conducting a research study where students learn a variety of mindfulness skills through Zoom and App without meeting in person. After students practiced a mindfulness-based skill called “loving-kindness meditation”, one student stated, “I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy I thought that I was going to cry!” In this loving-kindness meditation practice, we started with being kind to ourselves first then extended our warm wish to other people who may have been also struggling during the pandemic. Although we may not be able to socially connect in person safely yet, simply feeling connected by thinking of others with kindness and compassion can bring us such a positive impact on our mental health.
Mental health among health care providers:
Working in healthcare during COVID has been compared to working in a warzone. Frontline workers such as nurses and nurse’s aides face profound mental health impacts from the pandemic. In the 2020 American Nurses Association national survey of nurses some of the behavioral/mental health effects from working through the pandemic included: a sense of being overwhelmed, anxiety, irritability, exhaustion, sadness, sleep disruption, overeating, and reduced self-confidence. Coupled with the psychological impacts are contributing stressors that come from factors such as: ever changing information about COVID and with related frequent changes in organizational policies; increased workloads; inadequate and/or uncomfortable personal protection equipment; financial hardships due to furloughs; and reduced options for family care given pressing work schedules. In response to the ongoing pandemic impacts to nurses and other frontline healthcare workers, it is vital for employers to promote policies and practices that address and reduce risk factors for secondary trauma and promote the well-being of their healthcare providers at all levels. In this regard, it is essential to seek healthcare employee input as a foundation to instituting meaningful and site specific organizational supports for all.