kʷaxʷači open house helps erase mental health stigma

A constant flow of families made the May 23 kʷaxʷači open house a lot of fun, and for the kʷaxʷači staff it did their hearts good to see so many in the community come out to learn how to live better through mental health wellness.

Starting at check-in, guests were given a passport to fill by visiting the various informational tables set up in the Spirit House and Thunderbird Room. At these tables, topics of discussion addressed key sources of a person’s state of mental health: from “environmental health” (doing your part to care for the earth by using fewer plastics in particular); and “physical health” (yoga and stretching); to “nutritional health” (guests were invited to taste-test a variety of dried fruits and vegetables to replace salty and sugary snack foods).

The topic of “emotional health” was all about how to identify and express emotions appropriately. “All emotions are good,” said kʷaxʷači Director Dr. Danelle Reed. “It’s okay to be angry or sad; it’s just how we express those emotions that matters.” Pairing “emotional health” with the Twulshootseed language brought in an important facet of emotional health for Native people: historical trauma that gets passed down generation to generation. As Dr. Reed explained it, “To me, it is a piece of healing that historical wound so that the spirit is hearing its own language again after so many years of our language being stolen from us.”

At the “spiritual health” tables, all kinds of stuffed animals were displayed and waiting their forever home, as guests were invited to choose which animal spoke to their spirit. As the spiritual qualities of the animals, based on the animals’ characteristics, reflect the personal values each of us embrace, guests were invited to complete a worksheet identifying the values most important to them (like physical health, education, practicing kindness, etc.) and help empower them to intentionally create a life of meaning, purpose and joy.

The “mental distress tolerance kits” were a big hit that evening. Guests could assemble their own personal kits and, when feeling distressed, go to that kit to find something to help bring calm and focus. These coping tools included aromatherapy (customized mixes of scented oils to relieve stress and encourage a peaceful mind); photos of serene outdoor places and Native spiritual symbols to trigger good feelings; stress balls to squeeze and couple with deep breathing; and miniature cowbells to ring when feeling stressed, as the loud sound acts as a reset button to divert the mind to something else.

Before leaving armed with all the wonderful giveaways, guests shared a meal together and completed a questionnaire to give their feedback on the event and the services offered at kʷaxʷači.