May has been nationally recognized as Mental Health Month for the past 70 years. A person’s overall emotional and mental functioning can yield great impact on the physical health of their body and vice versa. This connection between the mind and body is extremely fascinating and currently a hot topic for discussion and research. With practices such as yoga and meditation on the rise, I think it is safe to say that most people recognize this mind-body connection. However, it has not always been accepted by mental health practitioners or the general public. We still have a long way to go in mental health education. Recently I learned about the psychology philosophy of dualism, in which it is believed that the mind and body are considered as separate entities. A scientific research study found that individuals who hold a strong belief in dualism tend to be less healthy. When we accept the mind-body connection as reality, we are healthier and more open to various types of treatments and therapies. There is so much new research involving the mind-body connection, that it can be a bit overwhelming when diving into such topics as alternative medicine, neuroplasticity, and the gut microbiome. I have found the studies that show how active gratitude changes your brain and the effect of gut bacteria on mental health particularly interesting.
Even with all the research that clearly demonstrates this mind-body connection, we generally talk about the brain as if it were separate from the body. We think about our health and healthcare in this way as well. Only recently in Telluride have primary care physician visits began to include mental health questionnaires and screenings. This protocol is certainly critical in treating the whole person; yet mental health is still a taboo topic when compared to physical wellness. It truly is ingrained in our society and minds to separate these concepts, though all the research shows their connection and oneness.
In college, I felt the stigma against mental health issues after losing my father to suicide. I began seeing a counselor and remember declining plans with friends because of a therapy appointment. However, I was too embarrassed to tell them why and vaguely stated I had previous plans. Since that time, I have learned to be an advocate for mental health. I make it a point to openly talk about my own therapy and growth to help normalize the process of acknowledging and addressing mental health concerns. It has been amazing to watch how many people have come to me to ask for therapist recommendations after making this intentional effort. This is a small, yet powerful way that I have made a commitment to community mental health. I am so excited to see how we can continue to improve the wellness in our community in my new position at Tri-County Health Network! To achieve and maintain a high level of community health and wellness, it is crucial to remember that the brain and body are connected and must be treated as a whole.
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–Sami Damsky, Behavioral Health Outreach Coordinator