Mental health tips, Part 1: Understanding the importance of community

By the Community Health Coalition of the Gunnison Valley

The community wants to take time to acknowledge that we are here to help each other stay mentally well during this time of uncertainty. During this time of physical distancing it is important for all of us to stay socially connected. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out. It is okay to not be okay.

We are all experiencing loss—loss of normalcy, loss of community members and loved ones, loss of our expected life and so much more. We are all in this together and need our community in different ways and at different times. We can all benefit from resources and may not be comfortable asking or receiving support, which can lead to increased stress. During these difficult and uncertain times, it is easy to let problems compound and become what seems to be insurmountable task of getting back on top. There are ways in which you can access resources while keeping your anonymity. Also, remember it is okay to be supported in this time regardless of who you are, what you do, where you live—we are all one Valley.

We want to take this time to provide some education on stress and the impact it can have on all of us, especially children. Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development of children can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain.

It is important to first note that not all stress is negative. Positive stress is an essential part of healthy development, characterized by brief increases in heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels. Some situations that might trigger a positive stress response are the first day with a new caregiver or receiving an injected immunization.

Tolerable stress response activates the body’s alert systems to a greater degree as a result of more severe, longer-lasting difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster or this pandemic. If the activation is time-limited and buffered by relationships with adults who help the child adapt, the brain and other organs recover from what might otherwise be damaging effects.

Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity—such as abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.

Small pieces add up to become Toxic Stress. When tolerable stress adds up and/or is prolonged and is not resolved it becomes toxic stress, which negatively affects you mentally and physically. Signs that stress is becoming unmanageable and that we could use some support are tightening in your jaw or neck, overeating, trouble sleeping, increased use of alcohol or drugs, grumpiness, relationship struggles with loved ones, loneliness, anxiety and depression, as well as fear about finances, rent or food. Toxic stress is nothing to ignore. Not only can it do long-term damage to relationships, it affects our heart health and immunity.

I can’t take this anymore! Many of us have felt this way since the COVID-19 pandemic started. We want everyone to know that the community is here to help support one another.

Remember, we are all experiencing this challenging time as a community and as a community we can support each other. In an effort to reduce toxic stress we want to ensure the community is aware of resources around food security, utility and housing assistance.

Available Resources: See the COVID-19 webpage for an extensive list of resources including Behavioral Health, Food Security, Housing Security, Utility Assistance.

When stress is managed in the context of loving, stable and caring relationships, where children feel safe and secure, they can get through the stressful, traumatic times without biological damage. The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the healthy development of the next generation.

Health Outcomes of Positive Experiences (HOPE): Big 4

—Being in nurturing, supportive relationships.

—Living, developing, playing and learning in safe, stable, protective and equitable environments.

—Having opportunities for constructive social engagement and connectedness.

—Learning social and emotional competencies.

We are all here to support one another.

The Community Health Coalition of the Gunnison Valley

Next week we look more at the impact of COVID-19 on young people in the area.

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