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Learn the Healthy Habits of Emotional Well-being!

By May 17, 2017February 3rd, 2021News

Written by Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D., Founder and President of Give an Hour, Huffington Post Contributor


There have been many excellent mental-health-focused public education efforts created and implemented over the years by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and other well respected mental health associations and organizations. These efforts have tended to focus on helping people understand mental health conditions, mental illness and available treatments.

There have also been compelling anti-stigma efforts designed to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness – including efforts championed by non profits such as Mental Health America (MHA), the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the National Council on Behavioral Health, Bring Change 2 Mind and Active Minds. All of these initiatives have contributed to the change in culture we seek – yet far too many people continue to suffer unnecessarily because of the shame and guilt they feel about emotional challenges they face.

The Campaign to Change Direction is a broad-based public health approach focused on changing the culture of mental health, mental illness and emotional well-being. And while it is too early to tell, some indicators suggest that the Campaign’s simple messages may break through our cultural barriers and become part of a shared view of overall health and well-being. If we succeed, we will reduce suffering and ensure that those in need are identified early and receive the care and support they deserve.

The Campaign to Change Direction launched in 2015 with former First Lady Michelle Obama as its first champion. Having such an articulate and admired public figure supporting the effort has been key to our success. In addition, several other celebrities and influencers have added their voices to the movement including Dr. Jill Biden, Prince Harry, Richard Gere, Brian Wilson, Chris Stapleton and Chamique Holdsclaw.

It also helps that the Campaign to Change Direction offers simple, clear messages that everyone can understand. Just as we know the signs of a heart attack, the Campaign encourages us to Know the Five Signs of Emotional Suffering – and Learn the Healthy Habits of Emotional Well-being!

The Five Signs of Emotional Suffering are easily observable indicators that tell us someone we care about may be hurting and needs our help. The Signs don’t suggest “why” someone is suffering – they are not diagnoses. They don’t need to be. Our goal is to encourage compassion and action.

I don’t remember when I learned the signs of a heart attack – it seems like I have always known them. And although I am not a medical professional of any kind – I know that it is important to take action and call 911 if I see someone who might be experiencing a cardiac incident. This type of widespread awareness is the cultural saturation we are after.

Someday everyone will know the Five Signs of emotional suffering. Someday, everyone will know how to take action to assist those in need instead of looking past people who are clearly in pain.

I remember the impact the “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” campaign had on me and my friends when it launched in 1983. I had just graduated from college and I remember how the message – and the awareness it created – led to a cultural shift that saved lives and changed how all of us thought about drinking and driving.

If Change Direction succeeds it will be due to the fact that this is a collective impact effort – with over 400 organizational partners helping to reinforce messaging as we build the movement together. So what does that actually mean – collective impact – and why does it make a difference?

Our partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an excellent example of the power of engaging the right organizations as we drive culture change. AFSP is a well-respected and effective organization in its own right. It is also a Founding Member of Change Direction. AFSP has done a superb job of co-branding our messaging as the organization goes about the important work of preventing suicide.

During the Campaign’s first year, AFSP handed out 25,000 co-branded Five Signs wallet cards during their Out of the Darkness Walks around the country. Last year AFSP handed out 100,000 cards. By continuing to spread the Change Direction’s message through this highly successful partnership, AFSP is extending our reach while strengthening it’s own brand – demonstrating that we are indeed more effective together.

Similarly, our corporate partners have done an excellent job assisting us with this heavy lift. Aetna, Booz Allen Hamilton, LHI and United Health – have all provided critical financial support to assist in implementing this massive public health effort. Perhaps more importantly, each has demonstrated their belief in – and commitment to – the movement by bringing the Campaign into their organizations and encouraging employees to “walk the walk”. Booz Allen Hamilton actually created a new position for one of their senior vice presidents who is working with us for six months as our first Corporate Fellow. Clearly, Booz Allen Hamilton recognizes the need for – and the value of – the work we are doing to change our culture.

In early May, we hosted the first ever Global Summit on Mental Health Culture Change in partnership with Los Angeles County. Many of our partners – along with stakeholders, consumers and advocates – joined us for three days of events and conversations. Those who participated agreed – it is time to change how we think about, talk about and address our emotional well-being.

And speaking of how we address our emotional well-being, the Summit created the perfect opportunity to launch the newest phase of the Campaign’s public health approach to culture change.

For the last two years, we have encouraged everyone to Know the Five Signs of Emotional Suffering – personality change, agitation, withdraw, poor self-care and hopelessness. Now we are encouraging everyone to Learn the Healthy Habits of Emotional Well-being.

We know that it is important to recognize when someone in emotional pain. It is equally important to learn basic habits that keep us emotionally healthy.

What are the Healthy Habits of Emotional Well-being? They are habits that everyone can learn – habits that allow each of us to identify and practice what works for us!

  • Take care of you. Eat, sleep and be active. We don’t often think about how important these basic activities are for our mental health – but they are critical.
  • Check In and get checkups. We get check-ups for our physical health and for our teeth. We even take our cars in for check-ups. It’s time to take responsibility and get check-ups for our emotional well-being. Talk with your doctor, a counselor, a faith based leader…and your family and friends to make sure you – and those you love – are doing well emotionally.
  • Engage and connect wisely. Pay attention to your relationships. We can’t be healthy if our relationships are not.
  • Relax. Learn ways to reduce the stress that we all face – and practice what works for you: meditate, run, knit, dance, sing, write, love…..
  • Know the Five Signs of emotional suffering. And if you see them in someone you love, reach out, connect and offer to help.

Why is this effort so important and why are so many partners excited about the potential of this movement? Because they see what we see. If the Campaign to Change Direction is successful – if we all Know the Five Signs and we all Learn the Healthy Habits – more than our culture will change. If we are successful, individuals and families will be healthier and communities will be stronger.

Together we can Change Direction.

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