The Mental Health Awareness theme for 2023 is ‘Look Around, Look Within’ and the focus is understanding how our surroundings impact our overall mental health and well-being. Since the dawn of time, humans had to be very careful about the surroundings in which they chose to live with the primary intent being survival. They had to ensure their safety from the elements and predators while implementing a hunter-gatherer culture that included hunting for food, gathering and setting aside vegetation for later, and using fire to cook and keep warm which allowed them to adapt to colder climates. From this way of life stemmed two critical concepts that remain relevant today. First, is survival of the fittest, which is the belief that only those best suited for their immediate environment as well as the ability to adapt to changing conditions, will survive. Secondly, the struggle for existence, which is the competition for vital resources needed to live such as food, space, and light. In both philosophies, the stronger person/people/population ultimately survives and contributes to the continuance of humankind. Today, humans face fewer challenges but strongly desire to feel safe and secure. Here at the Dismas Home of New Hampshire, we believe it is essential to understand and explore how the places we live, work and play all affect our general health and well-being.
Safe and Stable Housing
Having a safe and stable place to live should be the right of all humans but the reality is, roughly 150 million people worldwide are homeless with approximately 580,000 of them right here on US soil. Whether it is overcrowded living conditions, abuse, poverty, eviction or homelessness, housing insecurity can negatively impact the overall health of an individual. Just the thought that one may not know where they will sleep at night can create overwhelming anxiety, stress and fear. Due to their vulnerability individuals are then at risk for drug abuse, physical/mental/emotional abuse, sexual exploitation and criminal activity that then exposes them to physical and mental illness. It is difficult to address health, employment, familial and other challenges without having safe and stable housing. The Dismas Home of New Hampshire, is one of the only houses in New Hampshire offering women a safe, stable space to rebuild and have the tools needed to succeed.
Healthy Home Environments
While a house is nothing but four walls and a roof, a home is a place where one has a personal and emotional attachment to; a strong sense of belonging where you feel safe, comfortable and are free to be your true and authentic self without fear of judgment. A healthy home environment includes a good emotional support system, effective and open communication, compromise and strong conflict-resolution skills. These things help to foster an atmosphere of mental well-being for everyone and can significantly shape or influence who we become later in life. A healthy home is where we learn about happiness, love and care for human kind.
Neighborhoods and Towns
They say it takes a village to raise a child and there is a lot of truth in this. When you think about the amount of time an individual spends outside of the home this begins to make sense. Think about the number of hours we spend in school and work or how our dialogue, food, music, etc. are influenced by where we live. Studies show that roughly 60% of your health is determined by where you live. Your neighborhood and town impacts your sense of community, belonging and determines how easily you can access goods and services that you may need. Strong communities and neighborhoods teach us about kindness and acceptance, it aids in protecting our physical and mental health through shared support and resources.
The Outdoors and Nature
Ever wonder why people feel so refreshed and alive while interacting with nature and the outdoors? Studies indicate that spending just 20 minutes outdoors can promote the body’s production of cortisol and allows the mind and body to relax. The Winter months are hard on not only our bodies but also on our minds and souls causing many to suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Once spring rolls around and the slumber is over the outdoors appeals to all of our senses; from the sight of vibrant flowers to the cool breeze caressing our skin, like the trees we are brought back to life. Nature and all the beauty it offers is not only good for our mental frame of mind but also for our physical bodies.
As we observe mental health awareness month this May, the Dismas Home of New Hampshire urges each and everyone to look around, look within and understand the role our environment plays in shaping who we become.