Mental Health Awareness Month is an observance – since 1949 – for Americans to prioritize their emotional, social, and psychological well-being. During this time, AmeriCorps joins the National Alliance on Mental Illness and thousands of others to provide resources for Americans to take charge of their well-being.
AmeriCorps is proud to again partner with MTV for its second annual Mental Health Action Day on Thursday, May 19. Mental Health Action Day is an open-source movement of brands, organizations, and cultural leaders to drive our society from mental health awareness to mental health action. The day is reserved to motivate people to prioritize mental health as much as their physical health, and to encourage the public to discuss mental health more openly.
Mental health has been an important topic since the pandemic started. Isolation, social distancing, and lockdowns affected our way of life. These led to increased anxiety and stress levels. But, you can still keep your mental health in check in numerous ways. Here are three tips to help take care of your and others’ mental well-being.
Tip 1 – Become one with the environment
Spend time in nature. People who spend more time outdoors have shown lower stress levels, cognitive fatigue, and cardiovascular problems. Plus, being surrounded by greenery also improves productivity.
There are multiple ways to spend more time in nature:
- Trail and beach walking.
- Forest bathing.
- Park strolls.
Or you can combine these activities for both your physical and mental health while doing good for the environment at the same time.
Take for example the Washington Conservation Corps. AmeriCorps members who serve the organization help:
- remove beach debris and structures that damage shoreline habitat along the coast;
- restore marine habitats;
- plant and preserve native trees and shrubs;
- build and maintain trails; and
- construct bridges and boardwalks.
These activities provide people with a chance to connect to nature and take a much-needed break for their brain. Some AmeriCorps members shared that joining a conservation corps helped them with depression and find a new purpose.
AmeriCorps members also played a large role in protecting the state’s environment from climate change. Within a year, Washington Conservation Corps planted more than half a million trees, treated more than 600 miles of trail, and increased native tree restorations by 9.6 percent.
So, the next time you’re in need of some inner peace, consider taking up the work of conservation corps. Bask in nature while helping it, too.
Tip 2 – Befriend a new community member
For many of us, social distancing over the past two years put a strain on our well-being. Being unable to meet in person heavily affected social lives that often led to feeling isolated and lonely—for people of all ages. Students had to adjust to virtual classroom settings, professionals had to relearn work-life balance with remote work, and older adults had to safeguard against higher infection risks in their communities.
Though many are slowly returning to in-person activities, combatting the social effects of isolation will take some effort. We must be mindful and cautious of COVID-19, but there are safe ways to reconnect. Now that we have more experience using digital tools, we can leverage those to befriend fellow community members:
- Students who struggle with their schoolwork can connect with tutors virtually.
- Professionals can reach out to members and volunteers who serve in public health fields.
- Older adults can seek fellow companions.
AmeriCorps Seniors continue to shine during the pandemic. Through the three core programs – RSVP, Foster Grandparent Program, and Senior Companion Program – senior volunteers helped Americans across the nation:
- RSVP volunteers supported vaccination sites and mobile clinics in underserved communities.
- Foster Grandparents Program volunteers assisted students in remote and in-person environments, sharing their wisdom to help them navigate their social, emotional, and academic development.
- Senior Companions Program volunteers conducted wellness checks for homebound individuals and were a listening ear for their peers.
As one of AmeriCorps’ oldest programs, AmeriCorps Seniors has positively benefited many communities and the lives of volunteers. Even before the pandemic, 90 percent of older Americans receiving services from the Senior Companion Program shared that they were less lonely having a designated AmeriCorps peer. And, 73 percent stated that they were able to remain living at their home thanks to the care these companions provided.
If you want to volunteer your time with a new peer, check out the various ways you can do so.
Tip 3 – Feel happier by helping others
Invest in yourself through service. Many studies suggest that a sense of happiness is achieved through effort, progression, and accomplishment:
- The effort to do something outside of our daily lives.
- The progression to moving this thought into action.
- The accomplishment of completing said action.
Serving is one example of these steps. For example, Minnesota Reading Corps, an organization that helps children from age three through grade three learn to read. The program reaches more than 36,000 at-risk students annually. Tutors who join the organization work with children one-on-one and in small groups using literacy interventions tailored to each child's needs.
AmeriCorps members who join as tutors are required to complete literacy trainings before they start their service. The organization works with literacy experts to ensure members are equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to be effective and confident. This effort and progression result in beneficial accomplishments for both the children being served and members serving:
- AmeriCorps tutors helped more than 200,000 students.
- Minnesota Reading Corps Kindergarten participants have shown higher high school graduation rates than previous years.
- AmeriCorps members showed increased employment, earnings, and educational attainment after serving.
Do good to feel good
National service and occasional volunteer roles help more than the communities being served. Not only can you help solve local challenges, but through service, you also can improve your own mental health.
Plus, you can fit national service into your schedule however you like. Find your best fit with AmeriCorps this Mental Health Action Day.