Purpose and Belonging to Support Mental Health and Wellbeing
October 18, 2021
According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing:
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.
- 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.
On the 10th of October, people around the world celebrated World Mental Health Day (#WorldMentalHealthDay). This event was created by the World Federation of Mental Health in 1992 to advocate for mental health on an equal plane as other health needs, and this year’s theme is focused on “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality.”
In the past, a major obstacle to achieving this goal of care for all has been the stigma associated with a person struggling with mental health. Fortunately, that is beginning to change: a recent survey by HealthPartners Institute found that there has been a decrease in stigma and negative assumptions about mental illnesses. It’s important to continue to reduce this stigma because one in five adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness in any given year, and the stigma is a major barrier in self-care, acceptance and reaching out for treatment when needed.
An interesting perspective that has heightened awareness is the openness with which celebrities have shared their own mental health challenges. Highly visible members of society such as Simone Biles stated mental health reasons for dropping out of Olympic competitions midway despite being hailed one of the best gymnasts of all time. Others, such as Lady Gaga, Cheryl Crow, Owen Wilson, Dwayne Johnson (the Rock), Carrie Fisher and Ellen DeGeneres to name a few, are sharing their experiences and championing the cause for others to seek help early.
Harvard Business School case study Michael Phelps: “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay” showcases another Olympian who has lived with mental health issues for much of his life, including depression and suicidal thoughts. “Mental health was a major focus for Phelps in 2020 while working on removing the stigma associated with mental health issues, improving access to care, and preventing suicides.”
In the Each Mind Matters article, “Are Celebrities Changing How We Talk About Mental Illness?,” we learn that:
According to Psychology Today: “High profile people who disclose their experiences with mental illness bring a positive light to health and wellness. Research supports this, with data showing how positive stories result in more people seeking help as a result of a celebrity’s disclosure. Stigma research has shown that the telling of positive stories about living with mental illness significantly reduces the myths of mental illness. When the public learns about a person who lives with a clinical disorder, manages it well and experiences a rewarding life, stigma is reduced.”
The global pandemic has also contributed to increased awareness of mental health needs as some faced isolation, fear, physical health concerns, and other uncertainties of significant proportion for the first time in their lives. COVID-19 disrupted services for mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorders, causing additional stress on the systems that provide support.
The State of Mental Health in America Report, released annually by Mental Health America (MHA), noted 19% (47.1 million) of people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition nationwide, a 1.5 million increase over last year’s report.
“As the pandemic relentlessly persists, we are seeing the highest levels of anxiety and depression reported since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March. This is a troubling trend being fueled by loneliness and isolation. We are also seeing alarming numbers of children reporting thoughts of suicide and self-harm. The 2021 State of Mental Health in America Report confirms the trend that mental health in the U.S. continues to get worse and many states are ill-prepared to handle this crisis and policymakers at every level of government need to act immediately.”
The Belonging Project is a special initiative of the Chair in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford Medicine with the goal of advancing research on belonging and its relationship to emotional health and well-being and fostering collaboration to build cultures of belonging, among other aims. The department also focuses on the integral nature of equity in their work:
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important it is to work toward a more integrated theory and practice of well-being, which is increasingly understood as a combination of many factors: psychosocial, biological, genetic, and environmental, and bearing crucially on our shared need to belong. Belonging cannot be cultivated without a parallel intellectual and moral commitment to underlying issues of equity and justice.
The impact on children cannot be overlooked. In the Mayo Clinic 2019 article, “Is a sense of belonging important?,” the author explains the crucial need for belonging from birth and that failed healthy early life attachment leads to “lower self-esteem, a more negative worldview, are mistrustful and can have a perception of rejection.”
The State of the World’s Children 2021 report from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) examines child, adolescent, and caregiver mental health, and also highlights the many challenges surrounding children’s mental health and the long-lasting impact of the pandemic on this vulnerable population that has faced fear, isolation, disruptions, and stress.
Retired Professor of Child Development, Gale Spear, has provided a closer look at the impact of mental stressors on children. She shares that children develop a solid sense of self and good self-esteem in a quality early childhood program when their sense of belonging, purpose, and agency are fostered in a preschool learning environment. Further explaining that a quality preschool education provides children with the social-emotional skills they need to be engaged in school, have self-regulation, positive relationships, and to be emphatic. This carries over into adult life. A forty-year longitudinal study of the effects of quality preschool found that participants had higher educational attainment, more stable family environments, and improved health behaviors.
Tying these critical needs to our Purpose and Belonging theme was not difficult. In our research, we found numerous articles specifically addressing the impact that both purpose and belonging have on mental health and wellness.
Purpose, Mental Health, and Wellbeing
Purpose in Life Predicts Better Emotional Recovery from Negative Stimuli
Purpose in life predicts both health and longevity, suggesting that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting life’s challenges, may be a mechanism underlying resilience. Having purpose in life may motivate reframing stressful situations to deal with them more productively, thereby facilitating recovery from stress and trauma. In turn, enhanced ability to recover from negative events may allow a person to achieve or maintain a feeling of greater purpose in life over time.
A Strong Sense of Purpose Protects Against Loneliness (June 23, 2021)
- People who feel life is meaningful are more likely to be in both good psychological and good physical health (e.g., a strong sense of purpose may lower heart disease risk).
- People who feel life isn’t meaningful are more likely to be depressed, to require therapy and even feel suicidal.
Does Having a Sense of Purpose Improve Your Health? (March 2021)
And maybe it’s easier to find meaning in life than we think (no meditating at a monastery required.) “What this study does suggest is that we should emphasize activities and pursuits that we love, that are meaningful to us, and see those not as ‘something extra’ that we only pursue when we have spare time, but as essential sources of health and well-being.”
How Our Sense of Purpose Affects Our Wellbeing:
It’s human nature to search for purpose in our lives, from our careers to our relationships. So what impact does purpose have on our wellbeing? (October 16, 2020)
People who feel they live meaningful lives have stronger personal relationships, fewer physical health problems, improved mental health and overall healthier lifestyles. Conversely, when we lack a sense of purpose, we can feel stuck, or stagnant – which can lead us to feel depressed or anxious, unmotivated and generally dissatisfied with our situation.
What is Real Wellbeing – Purpose (video 3:11 min)
Australian Unity was established in 1840 as Australia’s first member-owned wellbeing company, delivering health, wealth and care services. The company is committed to Real Wellbeing for all Australians, noting Real Wellbeing means so much more than physical health. It’s about your standard of living and feeling safe in your home. It’s your personal relationships and being connected to your community. It’s about what you want to achieve in life, while having the security to get out and do what makes you happy.
Belonging, Mental Health, and Wellbeing
Sense of Belonging Increases Meaningfulness of Life (October 21, 2013)
A new study finds that when social relationships provide an all important sense of belonging, people feel life has more meaning (Lambert et al., 2013).
Missing Your People: Why Belonging Is So Important and How To Create It (January 2021)
Belonging is a necessary ingredient for our performance—individually, in teams and for our organizations—because we can more effectively engage and bring our best selves to work. And even more importantly, belonging is good for our wellbeing as humans. It’s important for individual physical, mental and emotional health, and it’s critical to the health of our communities. The pandemic has brought belonging into sharpened focus, and our opportunity is to find a way to create it for ourselves and others.
What Is the Sense of Belonging? (March 2021)
A 2020 study in college students found a positive link between a sense of belonging and greater happiness and overall well being, as well as an overall reduction in the mental health outcomes including anxiety, depression, loneliness, hopelessness, social anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Is Having a Sense of Belonging Important? (March 2019)
We cannot separate the importance of a sense of belonging from our physical and mental health. The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping manage stress. When we feel we have support and are not alone, we often cope more effectively with difficult times in our lives. Coping well with hardships decreases the physical and mental impact of these situations. Depression, anxiety and suicide are common mental health conditions associated with lacking a sense of belonging. These conditions can lead to social behaviors that interfere with an individual’s ability to connect to others, creating a cycle of events which further weakens a sense of belonging.
Our pathways alignment to this work can be found in several fields, including:
- Human Services led by Department Chair Dr. Michelle Shuler
- Psychology led by Department Chair Dr. Dan Dydek
- Sociology and Social Work led by Dr. Rennison Lalgee
- Child Development led by Department Chair, Regina McGough
- and Health Sciences under Dean Dr. Nina Almasy
The outlook for careers in the field of mental health is very promising based on a search in O*NET. O*NET is an online application developed by the U.S. Department of Labor National Center to provide public occupational information and includes information on skills, abilities, knowledge, work activities and interests associated with occupations.
Several careers in mental health, including mental health counselors, are tagged as “Bright Outlook careers expected to grow rapidly in the next several years based on large numbers of job openings, a new and emerging occupation with employment increase of 10%+ and projections of 100,000 or more job openings over the period 2020-2030 for the U.S. nationwide.
There were 271 careers in our search for ‘mental health’ and, in the top 20 alone, 15 were Bright Outlook careers.
Resources for ACC Students, Faculty, and Staff
Attention and research is being focused on mental health in higher education, largely prompted by the pandemic. This Survey on Mental Health in Higher Education by Duke Health, co-sponsored by Duke University and Ready Education, notes a “staggering 89% of students have reported experiencing stress and anxiety as a result of COVID-19, and college and university presidents cited student mental health as their top concern in the American Council on Education Pulse Point Survey.”
In the wake of the pandemic, we also find more resources being made available to faculty across the country to help identify, refer and support students with mental health needs. A September 21 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education sheds light as “Professors Are Being Trained to Spot Signs of Mental-Health Distress.”
Stanford’s Belonging Project also sheds light on the mental health needs of higher education:
In thinking about the vulnerabilities to social isolation which such students may be facing at this time, it is especially important to consider the sorts of overlapping vulnerabilities that certain students can face. As colleges and universities continue to grapple with how to balance the need to prevent the spread of the virus with the social and emotional needs of their students, they may benefit from thinking from the perspective of multiple vulnerable students: when the most vulnerable members of our communities feel that they belong, it usually means that we all feel that we belong.
How will ACC prepare its faculty to be part of the solution in fostering belonging and supporting their connection and referral to support services?
Austin Community College Mental Health Counselors are available to support ACC students’ success efforts. They offer services and programs across the district to foster life balance, develop personal and academic growth, and help maintain a safe and healthy learning environment. ACC counselors are licensed professionals with master’s and doctoral degrees who have been trained to provide guidance and potential solutions to emotional and psychological difficulties. Counselors work from a holistic approach and know that emotional health and a safe and healthy learning environment will contribute to academic success.
Counselors maintain a video library of resources and have compiled a list of events they will host this semester to support mental health and wellbeing.
The Drug Abuse and Alcohol Prevention Program (DAAPP) includes Red Ribbon Week outreach, involving classroom visits with instructional partners. The classroom visits include a presentation of videos addressing Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) issues and concerns: Chemical Dependency Awareness and Finding Your Sobriety Support Network. Following the videos, the clinician will lead a discussion on AOD awareness and prevention and conclude with an invitation to students to the Harnessing Safety workshop on October 27th.
|Break the Stigma: Addiction||Oct 19, 2021
Presentation of information on prevalence of anxiety in society as well as in college students. Coping strategies or ways to reduce anxiety. How to access counseling services within ACC or out in the community.
|Navigating Boundaries as a Student Leader||Nov 1, 2021
Via Zoom & On Campus
|This event is meant to help student leaders learn to say no and prevent themselves from being overwhelmed as well as navigating the boundaries of their communities.|
|Break the Stigma: Depression/Surviving the Holidays||Nov 16, 2021
Presentation of information on prevalence of depression in society, as well as in college students. Coping strategies and how to access counseling services within ACC or out in the community.
|Student Life Connect: Surviving the Holidays withFamily||Nov 17, 2021
Surviving the holidays with families that may have different views as you. Navigating controversial spaces and having an emergency “escape” plan.
Replay of Break the Stigma: Depression/Surviving the Holidays with LIVE Q&A
|Nov 7, 2021
|This will be a replay of the 11/16 DCCS workshop with a live Q&A with counselor present. How to access counseling services within ACC or out in the community.|
|Groups/Workshops (open and accepting members)
|The group focuses on teaching techniques to aid in building mental resilience, finding balance in life and calming the mind and body.
*Requires clinical intake and 15-minute video screening to make sure the group is a good fit – complete the standard counseling request form
|Groups/Workshops (open and accepting members)
Caring to Connect
|Thursdays @11am: 10/14, 10/21, 10/28, 11/4, 11/11, 11/18 via Zoom||Psychoeducational group on how to be a peer advocate on wellness issues for other ACC students – listening skills, referral skills|
The great benefits offered by ACC to employees include access to a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program or EAP. Through EAP, a trained counselor is available 24/7, 365 days of the year to help you and your dependents cope with life’s stressors so that you can live a happy, productive lifestyle. The services cover stress, tension, anxiety, depression, grief, anger management, marital/family problems, work-related difficulties, trauma recovery, substance abuse, health, wellness, and legal/financial concerns.
- Website: www.deeroakseap.com (login & password = austinccd)
- Email: email@example.com
- Phone: 1 (866) 327-2400
Faculty and staff can also take advantage of ACC’s Employee Wellness Program, which strives to provide opportunities within a supportive work environment for employees to improve their health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Mauri Winters, who manages the program, has collected a variety of resources and developed opportunities for engagement through the program website.
Mauri is among the first to hold this position at ACC. She has encouraged accountability-buddies — belonging — through exercise challenges, face-to-face, and online wellness class options, and helpful links to practical techniques to deal with anxiety and stress in the moment.
ACC’s Veterans Affairs Office also provides resources for mental health and belonging through advocacy and interest groups.
A number of external resources are also available, such as this course on How to Help Students Manage Their Anxiety and Energy Levels so They Can Learn or the Healthy Minds Program app that is free and available on iOS and Android. The app’s focus is to help you develop the skills for a healthy mind—by strengthening mental focus, decreasing stress, and growing resilience, compassion, and better immune health. Founded by neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson (who also founded the research institute Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), the framework of the app’s mindfulness and well-being training is organized into four pillars, one of which is Purpose.
We also received notice of this free webinar that includes strategies to understand and assess students’ emotional capacities – “Normal Isn’t Coming Back. What Can Educators and Students Do To Adapt in Our Ever-Changing Learning Environment?. It will be held on October 28 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm (EDT).
We are over 18 months into a pandemic. And the cognitive overload we face only continues to expand, for both educators and students. There are no “best practices” for where we are today. In this webinar, Harvard Business Review Editor Amy Bernstein will lead a conversation with Michellana Jester, an expert in Global Economics and Management at MIT Sloan School of Management, about strategies educators and students can use to adapt and move forward in this ambiguous learning environment.
At the state level, Texas has 37 local behavioral health authorities that deliver mental health services to counties throughout Texas. The behavioral health authority in the Austin area (Travis County) is called Integral Care. They “support adults and children living with mental illness, substance use disorder and intellectual and developmental disabilities in Travis County. Services include a 24-hour helpline for anyone who needs immediate support, ongoing counseling to improve mental health, drug, and alcohol treatment to help with recovery, andhousing to regain health and independence.”
The nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. “What started as a small group of families gathered around a kitchen table in 1979 has blossomed into the nation’s leading voice on mental health. Today, NAMI is an alliance of more than 600 local affiliates and 48 state organizations who work in your community to raise awareness and provide support and education that was not previously available to those in need. They provide several infographics and resource pages, such as this one, that we can use to support this work.”
The focus on mental health also gained recognition through the declaration of Mental Health Awareness Month in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA) organization (then known as the National Association for Mental Health). Celebrated each May to raise awareness, provide education and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, MHA prepares a toolkit of resource materials to support activities nationwide that bring awareness, advocacy, reduce stigma and provide strategies to address mental health needs. This year, the Biden administration released “A Proclamation on National Mental Health Awareness Month” to highlight the importance of mental health awareness programs and a need for evidence-based training such as Mental Health First Aid.
Another historical milestone in mental health happened on June 2, 2008, when Congress formally recognized the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month as a way to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face in regard to mental illness in the United States.
Those who regularly struggle with mental health are often already ostracized by society, but those with mental health issues who also happen to be Black, Indigenous, or People of Color have it especially rough.
Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who brought national attention to the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented groups of people. “Throughout her life, Campbell struggled to support her daughter, who battled mental illness, in a system that actively prevented minorities from being able to get the help and support they needed in regards to mental and emotional well-being.”
Now more than ever, we have a wealth of information, resources, and tools to support all of those in our communities with needs in mental health and wellbeing. Research shows we can use the tools and practices of purpose and belonging as additional support strategies for students, faculty, staff, and community members alike to live their best lives. In the words of Brené Brown, “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”
We welcome learning more about your needs or what you are doing to bring awareness and support for mental health in your teaching, learning, and workspaces.
In shared purpose and belonging,
Dr. Susan M. Thomason
in collaboration with
Terry Barksdale, Professor / Reference Librarian
Gale Spear, Retired Faculty Child Development and Senior Faculty Counsel
Mauri Winters, Benefits Program (Wellness) Coordinator
Sylvia Galvan Gonzalez, Executive Dean, District Clinical Services
Brittney Alston, Senior Administrative Assistant to Executive Dean of District Clinical Services
Julie Cuellar Reck, Dean, Counseling South Region, Assistant Professor of Student Development
Rich Griffith, IR Analyst (Data Scientist/Survey Specialist), Professor of Psychology
Are you harnessing the power of purpose and belonging in your work at ACC?
We’d love to hear from you! Contact TLEDcomms@austincc.edu for opportunities to be featured on our website and blog.
Responses to "Purpose and Belonging to Support Mental Health and Wellbeing"
Julie Cuellar Reck - October 20, 2021
Thanks so much for highlighting that we ALL need help throughout our lives: Students, Faculty, Staff, Administrators, parents, children, teens, grandparents, brothers, and sisters. Your resources and information are so helpful to break the stigma around mental health issues and help-seeking behavior. There is STRENGTH in vulnerability! 🙂
terry b - November 16, 2021
Agreed! Vulnerability and authenticity can help us connect across most any divide.
terry b - November 16, 2021
From the Harvard article about adding mental health to business classes:
“Yet business schools, particularly those that employ the case teaching method, have historically presented business leaders and case protagonists, as well as those they manage, as unaffected by outside stressors or health issues (1). The classroom narratives of neutral individuals dealing with challenging problems with finesse leave little room in the conversation to discuss topics of mental health. Rarely do cases mention how little top leaders sleep at night or how many of them might exhibit behaviors that could seem to be consistent with narcisstic personality disorder, sociopathy, or psychopathy. Nor do many cases focus on failures and some of their human causes.
Educating current and future leaders on pressing workplace mental health issues is no longer an option—it’s an imperative. Business educators have an opportunity to equip students with the tools and mindsets they need to run psychologically sustainable organizations in the public and private sectors. Providing a space in class to discuss mental health or incorporate issues related to mental health at work can better prepare your students for their careers and their impact on others. Simply put, we have to talk about it.
Here, we’ll offer guidance on how to do just that—how to overcome the challenges and barriers of surfacing and managing discussions about mental health with your students. But first, it’s important to prepare yourself for these discussions.
Invest and Inquire: Take the Time to Educate Yourself About Mental Health
While it is high time that we collectively talk about human sustainability, diving in before you are personally prepared can be harmful. Here are some ways to make sure you’re ready and able to conduct these critical conversations.
Learn to talk about mental health.
Assess your knowledge of these topics using free resources such as the Learn Mental Health program. Terms and definitions from the World Health Organization can also help you build mental health literacy and confidence with this topic. For more on the work context, consider Harvard Business School’s “Mental Health and the American Workplace” note. Consult the CDC for language about mental and behavioral health and the American Psychiatry Association for ways to describe individuals presenting with potential mental health disorders.
Reflect on the biases and experiences you may bring to the classroom. Consider how your own story—being raised by a parent diagnosed with bipolar disorder or suffering from substance abuse, for example—may influence how you react and relate to others. Determine your level of openness to being vulnerable and discussing the struggles you or your loved ones face or have faced. This is a personal decision, and it is certainly possible to discuss mental health in the classroom without these anecdotes or personal connections. However, the courage to be open about your own past can have a transformative effect on classroom discussion.
Understand that students may need extra support.
Be ready for this by making yourself accessible and approachable to your students early on, as well as throughout your time together. Establish trust with your students and advise them to seek professional help when necessary.”
terry b - November 17, 2021
A precursor to finding your purpose: Wellness. https://youtu.be/rKQLBiylsn8