As we recognized Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Awareness Day at the end of April and move into Mental Health Awareness Month in May, I have been reflecting on children’s mental health and well-being. The headlines are everywhere about “the crisis in children’s mental health”, particularly in the context of the pandemic. While the headlines are drawing needed attention to our children’s overall health, we know that there was a rising crisis well before COVID-19 and that the pandemic is certainly not the only contributor to the current state of mental health for young people.
The first time I attended an ACEs training for human service providers, I found the trainer to be brilliant and the research fascinating. The trauma-informed practices were so promising, yet left me feeling dizzy with the magnitude of the work that needed to be done. I suddenly saw the impact of trauma everywhere but had little power or resources to implement meaningful change. I was the only one from my program attending, and there was no follow up. I was just one person and had little authority. I realized it would require a level of leadership and system change that felt unfathomable at the time. Even with buy-in, where would our organization even begin? Would it even be possible to measure an impact? And even if our organization became trauma-informed, but the system did not, would it even matter? Whomp whomp.
Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs are potentially traumatic events in childhood (i.e. parental divorce or incarceration, violence, food insecurity, etc.,) that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being throughout life. The higher the number of ACEs experienced, the greater the risk of having negative health risk behaviors and outcomes, such as obesity, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), suicide, substance use disorder, and depression. ACEs are costly and preventable.
If you ask the average person to explain the fight, flight, freeze response, most will know that this is the body’s automatic response to a threat or stressful situation. Many will also easily describe the difference between the responses. It is well understood that the human stress response is adaptive and effective at protecting us from threats, activating immediately without waiting for our conscious thought to catch up. Less commonly understood but not infrequently experienced is the fawn response, which refers to the consistent dismissal of one’s own needs to appease those around them.
It is January 2023, nearly three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that altered business as usual in our professional worlds. There was an abrupt shift in operations for many of us; we whirled in uncertainty for some time, re-writing the rules as we went. It is clear to us now that the landscape of the workplace has been permanently altered as remote work opportunities seem here to stay.
Many employees find remote work favorable for several reasons - accessibility for underrepresented workers, flexible work hours, reallocation of time usually spent commuting, reduced emissions and vehicle congestion on the roads- yet identify feelings of social disconnect from their coworkers, contributing to a diminished sense of community in the workplace. Though some employees may not perceive a disconnect and find these conditions favorable, others may find a deteriorated sense of community consequential to their overall feelings of job satisfaction.
Oftentimes, it may be difficult for thoughts and emotions to be identified, fully understood, and communicated. It can be a very vulnerable and nerve-wracking experience to share about and show oneself to others, for fear of being judged, viewed negatively, or even hurt. It may be incredibly difficult to talk about emotionally painful and traumatic experiences aloud even if one wants so badly to tell someone. Where all these experiences can be difficult for adults, they can particularly be difficult for children.
Our MHCP team likes to say that we find wellness in partnership with others. This means that healing in mental health is not without our support system, and illness impacts not just the individual but their family and supporters. MHCP highlights a relational approach to mind-body health and recovery. Our goal with MHCP is to support the individual as much as possible during any major life transition, like transitions from treatment back to life in the community. Through a holistic lens, we focus on wellness and all dimensions of our health to highlight strengths within an individual to find recovery on the continuum of wellness. We recognize that we are never 100% well or 100% ill for all of our lives. So this reminds us that our current status of health is always in movement, and it changes day-to-day.
We like to say, "We don't get it right every day but we are willing to keep trying!" PCANY has been working to walk the walk for the past four years when it comes to TI practice. For us, this means being willing to look internally at how we are present daily for our own staff to ensure that what we do internally aligns with what we do externally with our partners. This has led us to think deeply and reflectively about the culture we want to nurture and grow. So much of our work is about the 6 Principles of TI Practice and the Protective Factors Framework and we were curious and excited to see if we could embrace these more completely into our organizational life.
Postvention is best defined as providing assistance to individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide. The primary goals of postvention services are to provide emotional support and healing, as well as education and guidance to help reduce the negative effects of suicide exposure. Postvention services also help individuals with their grief process. In order for postvention services to be most effective, they must be implemented ahead of time in anticipation of a potential future crisis. It is also critical that information about available services be made accessible to the community where the services are provided. Postvention plans can be developed at the community, city, or county levels, as well as in schools and workplaces.
Westchester Breathes is an ongoing program, initiated by the Westchester Library System (WLS) in 2018, that offers an experience of gentle movement, breathing and relaxation exercises that reduce stress and anxiety and increase a sense of calm and well-being. These exercises are simple and evidence-based – which is to say they are accessible to multiple audiences and they work!