May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and kʷaxʷači Counseling Center (KCC) is taking part in order to shed light on mental health and mental health conditions that many people suffer with, often in silence.
An open house is scheduled for Wednesday, May 23 to give the tribal community the opportunity to visit the Center, meet the staff therapists and get the latest information on how kʷaxʷači can help you along your path to attain mental peace and health.
“We’re going to be teaching our community about how they can practice better coping strategies and keep their stress at manageable levels instead of getting to a place where it feels unmanageable,” said kʷaxʷači Director Dr. Danelle Reed.
Dinner will be served around 5 p.m. and the open house goes until 7 p.m. Guests will be invited to visit the multiple information stations about how to practice self-care, including make-your-own stress tolerance kits – items that can help bring stress levels down like aromatherapy and mindfulness. “If you match stress ball squeezing with deep lung breathing, you can reduce your heart rate in as little as 90 seconds,” said Danelle. “It’s like meditative thinking where you calm yourself down and focus on breathing. It’s pretty powerful stuff.”
In addition, the open house will promote what two national mental health organizations are doing to honor National Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) is highlighting their theme: “To Cure Stigma.” kʷaxʷači therapists have long been active in curbing the stigma associated with seeking help for mental stress and anxiety, so NAMI’s theme fits perfectly into kʷaxʷači programs (visit www.NAMI.org).
“We really want to promote their idea because what stigma does is spread misinformation – things that can make you feel less than comfortable seeking help if you begin to suffer,” Danelle Reed said. These feelings can be compounded by all the talk in the news whenever there is a mass shooting – the shooter is almost always said to have untreated mental health problems. In reality, Danelle said that people with mental illness commit far fewer crimes than the general population but yet they seem to be on the news all the time.
“What stigma does is keep people from seeking help. To me, I like to compare it to breaking your leg. If you break your leg and the bone is sticking out and you’re clearly in pain, you wouldn’t hesitate to go to a physician. But when our feelings are hurting or our spirit is crying, we don’t seek help because of the stigma and things that we believe about people who come to mental health clinics.”
The open house will also advocate the Mental Health American (MHA) theme for this month: “#4Mind#4Body” (visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net/4mind4body). kʷaxʷači has consistently put forth the mind/body connection when it comes to mental health, as what we put into our bodies has a direct effect on our mental state.
NAMI’s and SAMHSA’s themes for this month are of particular importance to indigenous people. Native Americans suffer disproportionately with mental health struggles and hold the deepest roots that prohibit them from seeking help, mainly due to a long history of distrusting Indian Health Services and doctors who once treated Indian people brutally back before Native people could establish their own health services. Coupled with the impacts of boarding schools, the rounding up of Indians, and other tragedies, “historical trauma” is real and it hurts.
“We uniquely suffer disproportionately from stigma and seeking help than any other ethnic group I’ve worked with and I’ve worked all across the country in hospitals that serve every person of color and non-persons of color,” Danelle said. “Science has actually proved that we carry the wounds of our ancestors.”
To illustrate her point, Danelle said that researchers studied pregnant rats and paired the scent of cherry blossoms, a nice thing, with shock. When the babies were born, they were exposed to the cherry blossom scent and had a fear response. “They released fear hormones just from the smell of the cherry blossoms, so the mom gave them that memory. To me, this shows that we can carry the wounds of generations,” she said.
Understanding the history of the ancestors behind you, acknowledging it, accepting it, healing it and moving on are key to living in the present and maintaining mental and emotional wellness.
“It has to be a conscious healing because otherwise you just carry it and have pain. That’s why seeking help is so important,” Danelle advises.
Currently kʷaxʷači hopes to use grant funding from SAMHSA-GLS to help bring nationally known trainers from the University of Washington to kʷaxʷači for two days of training for counselors there to earn certification in trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy. kʷaxʷači also aims to bring its services to Chief Leschi Schools as well in the form of mental health screenings for students and to train staff in suicide awareness.
“The school used to do a behavioral health screening and we want to bring it back,” Danelle explained. “We should know how our kids are feeling. We need to catch them while they’re young and have not been biased against seeking when they are emotionally suffering.”