Mental Wellness: Strength in Self-Care and in Seeking Help
When it comes to giving parents, caregivers, and children the tools to be resilient, stable, and healthy, the FamilyWise team talks a lot about taking a holistic approach.
For example, as referenced in a previous blog post, we see families thrive when they engage both professional and natural supports. Similarly, our team feels strongly that mental health support is an essential foundation for supporting the “whole person” and whole family—especially at a time when mental health crises are on the rise in the COVID era.
“We need to come together as a community to provide a sense of compassion for the families we serve and for their mental health,” shares Supervised Parenting Manager Glorina Fruetel. Unfortunately, when families encounter systems, attention is rarely given to mental health. “It feels isolating and lonely in the family court system or child protection,” says Glorina. “The expectation is you’ll tend to your own chemical, physical, and mental health, plus your housing, job, and more.”
Adding to the challenge, mental health is often seen as stigmatizing or intimidating to address. At FamilyWise, we start by making it more approachable. “Mental health, that term, is in some ways a very big word,” shares Family Specialist Mi Ja Bergerson. “If we can break that down to a daily vocabulary we can connect with families better.” Supervised Parenting Manager Glorina Fruetel agrees. “I like to use the term mental wellness,” Glorina says.
“There should be no shame or stigma in asking for help,” adds FamilyWise Chief Executive Officer Ann Gaasch. “In fact, [seeking help] should be seen as a sign of strength and courage.”
It also helps to make the connection between mental health and other types of wellbeing. Director of Prevention Initiatives Jenna Schmidt says, “Mental health is tied to so many things: physical health, community health.”
The importance of self-care and your circle of support
“It all intersects, overlaps, is one and the same,” says Glorina. “If you don’t take care of yourself and your own mental and physical needs, you will not be able to support someone else.” One way for a parent to support their children’s mental health is to support their own: mental and emotional self-care is a must for parents and others caring for kids facing mental-health crises. Mi Ja echoes that sentiment: “We all deserve to be cared for, so let’s care for ourselves.”
Tying it back to the idea of holistic services, self-care extends to FamilyWise’s prevention work, as Jenna shares. “Self-care is community care. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your community.”
As with all our programs, the role of natural supports (friends, family members, and other “non-professionals” in your circle) can also be critical. “Sometimes when you’re in the midst of it, you can’t see yourself heading into a relapse of depression,” says Ann. “So sometimes it’s as much about the advice we’d give to the people who around someone who is struggling…Talking to others who care about them, bringing together a safety net and understanding what everyone is thinking in that situation so we can be the most helpful.”
Jenna and the rest of our staff are seeing a shift in mental health awareness. “I think people have a better understanding of what mental health and wellbeing are, and what self-care is,” she says. “When [talking about these things] in presentations, I get a lot of head nods. “Now that we know about how these issues are, and what leads up to them, we can [partner with families] to prevent them and figure out, upstream, how we can start helping people develop core protective systems.”
Mi Ja says that the COVID era has led to greater awareness of the need for mental wellness care, particularly on (and off) school campuses where kids have dealt with so much uncertainty. “Going through the pandemic, schools had to adjust how they interacted with children and families,” she says. “That experience [raised the issue] of children’s mental wellness, and the importance of parenting on child development. Throughout the pandemic, the schools really advocated for this and I hope that raises mental health awareness.”
“There is a lot of hope around this,” agrees Ann. “[People struggling with mental health] don’t have to feel like they’ve been given a life sentence. If we can raise up stories of hope and healing, and help parents think about how to talk to a nurse practitioner or pediatrician to address issues early, we know treatment will be more successful the sooner they begin.”
As with so many movements, it appears the youth will lead. “There’s this generation of high school and college students who are stepping forward and saying enough, and addressing some of the barriers to obtain services,” says Glorina. “I believe the generation of youth are compelling us to be more willing to address these challenges,” concurs Ann. “I am so grateful for their courage.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach out for support. Talk to your doctor, tell a friend, and/or check out the resources below. You are not alone!
Connect with Help
Resources for Learning and Healing: