Many Roads to Mental Wellness
Girls on the Run isn’t about running.
Sure, running is a big part of this program for girls in grades 3-8; participants learn to enjoy running and build endurance so they can keep at it longer — and become healthier in the process.
But the heart of this organization (see story on page 30) isn’t physical endurance; it’s emotional resilience. It’s about social-emotional health, developing confidence, and finding joy.
And those can be challenges for young people today.
“We’ve definitely tapped into a need,” Alison Berman, council director of Girls on the Run Western Massachusetts, told us. “There’s a huge child mental-health crisis right now. And whatever’s going on with them, Girls on the Run is giving them this extra layer of skills to support them.”
Interestingly, we spoke with Berman and her team members during Mental Health Awareness Month, just a few days after we visited Springfield Central Library for another program aimed at young people and their emotional wellness.
Specifically, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center partnered with the Holyoke Public Library and Springfield’s city libraries to encourage awareness and conversations on the topic of mental wellness. Displays of books and other materials have been prominently set up to promote understanding around mental health and to encourage such collaborations for libraries to become better resources on the topic — for visitors of all ages, including (and, perhaps, especially) youth.
María Pagán, Holyoke Public Library director, said she hopes that, by making educational materials about mental health and substance use more accessible, the effort will eventually encourage people to learn about these conditions, recognize them, and seek any needed assistance.
Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director for Public Services at Springfield Central Library, said librarians don’t judge what people read. “The same thing goes for if you were to come into a library and ask a question that concerns mental health or emotional wellness. We don’t judge that. We’re here to help you no matter what.”
The displays, she said, might help visitors find something they need, and realize that “this is a safe place to ask questions, including about your emotional wellness.”
Meanwhile, just a few months ago, the Springfield Youth Mental Health Coalition, convened by the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, launched “I Am More Than My Mood,” a new awareness campaign that aims to normalize healthy conversations about mental health and encourage youth and their caregivers in Greater Springfield to discuss stress, anxiety, and depression as common challenges that everyone goes through.
These are just a few examples, but the message is clear: mental-health issues are common — and were certainly exacerbated during the pandemic, especially for young people — and the time is always right to talk about them (as in the case of the library partnership and the coalition campaign) and give kids healthy alternatives to achieve personal wellness (as Girls on the Run and other youth-serving nonprofits do).
Pagán, for her part, agrees with Canosa. “No judgment. You might read something because you want to, you’re curious, or because you know somebody that might benefit, and you could help if you learn about it. Information is power.”
So is talking about mental health. So let’s keep talking.