Jumping rope or eating an apple is good for more than just your physical wellness — it can help keep your mind healthy, too.
Throughout the month of May, the city of Umatilla and the Umatilla School District will focus on mental health, and the many parts of life that contribute to it.
The events will parallel the national Mental Health Awareness Month theme, “whole body,” and will help residents understand the connections between physical activity, nutrition, and mental well-being.
Breaking down the month into weekly themes, the district has released a calendar, and each day teachers and families are encouraged to do a different exercise or activity that focuses on mental health. There will also be free events throughout the month, including parent classes and a 5K run/walk.
Week 1 is called “let’s talk about it,” simply discussing with students and families what it means to be aware of mental health. Week 2, “mind and soul,” teaches students how to be aware of their thoughts and feelings. Week 3 focuses on the connection between physical and mental health, and Week 4 highlights the importance of nutrition.
The daily activities and tips include thought exercises — “tell someone two positive traits about yourself” or “ask an adult one thing they do to help themselves feel better” — physical activities, like doing 10 jumping jacks or going for a 10-minute walk, and healthy eating suggestions.
The month will also feature several classes for parents and community members, including a Zumba class and one about “good mood foods,” showing parents the connection between eating well and feeling good.
The daily events will culminate in a 5K run/walk and mental health fair on May 19.
Selene Torres-Medrano, a Umatilla city councilor and an ELL Family Outreach Coordinator at the Umatilla School District, is the driving force behind the month-long recognition of mental health and wellness. She said several local organizations will be at the event, including Lifeways, Community Counseling Solutions, Domestic Violence Services and Good Shepherd.
Torres-Medrano said she has directly observed the need for students to have mental health services.
“Umatilla is a very high-poverty area,” she said. “With that comes domestic violence, drug abuse — it all comes down to mental health. People don’t get the help they need.”
She added that while the school’s counselors do a great job, it’s hard for them to keep up with the number of kids that need help.
Torres-Medrano also has a personal connection to the subject. A Umatilla native, she has suffered from depression and anxiety herself. That, along with an abusive background, had an effect on her that she didn’t initially realize.
“I didn’t learn about it until people started reaching out to me,” she said. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Torres-Medrano took a year off before applying to medical school. As she took time to address her own needs, she observed that others may be struggling with the same concerns.
“We have to give kids the tools to deal with trauma,” she said. “It’s not enough to tell them that higher education is important.”
Torres-Medrano said she’s been amazed by the level of support community members have shown for Mental Health Awareness Month. At the city council meeting, councilors adopted a proclamation designating May as Mental Health Month in Umatilla.
Clara Brownell Middle School counselor Nayeli Guzman said over the past few weeks, the school has seen an increase in suicidal ideation. She said the counselors make sure they let students know they’re being heard and can check in whenever they need.
She said throughout the month they will be putting up posters about mental health statistics, and messages encouraging students to seek help if they need it.
Umatilla School District superintendent Heidi Sipe said she was excited for the events this month.
“Students know it’s OK to ask for help when needed and understand that seeking services is simply a part of health and not a stigma,” Sipe said. “I’m excited to see mental health month recognized in our schools and community, and hope it helps engage others in the conversation about supporting all in our community.”
Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.