In honor of National Mental Health Month (May), the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce members heard from Toni Kennedy, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Owner/Director of Stepping Stones Family Counseling Center in Richfield at their regularly scheduled meeting held Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Salina.
Kennedy first stressed the importance of self-care as well as setting, and sticking to, boundaries.
“We all have stressors,” she said. “In the workplace, in our homes, no matter what we do, we are bound to experience stress. I believe first and foremost in putting boundaries in place to separate work and home stressors. When you are at work, concentrate on work. You’re not going to be your best self at work if you’re overwhelmed with stressors from home, and the same is true when you’re home. Don’t keep yourself wound up about work related issues when you’re home. Concentrate on being in the moment.”
She recommended doing something specific, for example listening to loud music and singing along on the way to and from work to let go of work, and home, before arriving at your destination; separate the two distinctively.
According to Kennedy self-care is the most important thing individuals can do to stay mentally healthy, and practically anything we chose to do can be framed as such if done properly.
“Be in the present moment,” she said. “Practice mindfulness. Anything can be self-care if you frame it that way. It is the intention and focus that matters. When you brush your teeth, focus on nothing but brushing your teeth. Acknowledge you are doing this for your health. Use your senses, feel the brush, taste and smell the toothpaste, be in the moment and focus on the fact that you’re doing something good for yourself because you matter.”
She said overwhelming statistics prove the benefits of daily exercise as a form of self-care; exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. In addition, exercise decreases stress, increases self-esteem and self-confidence, and helps with better sleep.
She also spoke on the devastating suicide numbers and said as community members we have two jobs:
First: we must challenge the common belief that those who commit suicide want to die. She said overwhelmingly that is not the case, rather, they want the pain to stop, and that is the only way they know how.
Second: we must recognize evidence-based warning signs such as a hyper-focus on death, an abrupt withdrawal from friends/family/social events, anxious or agitated behavior in a typically chill person, adults engaging in reckless behavior, and going on a ‘good-bye tour’ which is mentioning, often repeatedly, how hard things are now compared to how good they used to be.
Kennedy cautioned those in attendance to be aware of those in your circle of influence who are going through a crisis in life, whether it be a recent death in their family or a major life change such as a divorce. Reach out to those people and let them know you’re there and you care.
She also mentioned the real danger of suicide glorification which may result in suicide clusters, especially in adolescents.
Knowing the warning signs is the first step, but doing something about it is equally important, according to Kennedy. She said the Safe UT app has lowered every single “bad” number in Utah and encouraged EVERYONE to get it and use it.
In addition, she stressed the importance of addressing the changes you’ve noticed and to never stop trying.
“If you’ve noticed a family member has been noticeably absent from family functions and that’s atypical of them, talk to them about it,” she said. “Say, ‘hey, I haven’t seen you for a while. Everything OK?’”
Oftentimes the answer will be, ‘yes, I’m fine’, but don’t give up. Never stop trying and act on your instinct.
“Ninety percent of everyone has had a suicidal thought ant one time of the other,” she said. “We’ve all been in a dark place, so we need to communicate openly and speak of things unashamedly. The best thing you can do is to throw it out into the light; let them know you’re not afraid or ashamed to talk about it.”
And sometimes, despite everything, sometimes they’re just going to do it and we need to recognize we did what we could and love the family.
Kennedy said there are multiple resources available in Sevier County with those suffering from depression and/or anxiety and counseling and asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
“We don’t bat an eye about those taking medication for high blood pressure,” she said. “Why would it be any different for those with a chemical imbalance in their brain that causes anxiety and depression. It can be a long-term disease that needs professional treatment. There’s a lot of stigma about it, but we need to get over it.”
Central Utah Counseling Center in Richfield is a great resource, as is her business Stepping Stones Family Counseling Center. In addition, an Emergency Room would be a sure place to head if someone is on the verge of a suicide attempt and a call to local law enforcement would be the quickest resource to keep someone safe. She said they’re trained to de-escalate situations and would rather be called and not needed that not called and find out they could have helped because their job is to protect people.
“Reach out to those you love, let them know there is someone who cares,” she said. “Reach out! Use your voice! Take care of yourself. Take a break! Take care of yourself!”