In the wake of dire need, we are in the midst of a mental health awakening.
For some, the long shadow of struggles brought on by economic difficulty, health problems, systemic oppression, and racism have plagued the mental health of so many Georgians really forever. For others, the stark reality of a public health crisis has been a jarring disruption to our lives and society, unlike anything one could have foreseen or adequately prepared for. And for our children, these factors, plus the onslaught of social media exposure that provides a constant platform for comparison and bullying, have all culminated in alarming data that requires action. We are all struggling on some level, and for many of us, we struggle without adequate tools to model what to do for the children in our lives whether we’re a parent, family member, caregiver, or friend.
Our knee-jerk approach to these issues is to focus on treatment. Treatment is important, but prevention is even more potent. And research for decades has drawn a clear line between physical activity, and improved mental health.
Recently, the National Institutes of Health identified physical activity as one of the most predominant factors in helping middle-school-aged girls maintain healthy mental health during the pandemic. A clear indication that our Girls Empowering Movement (GEM) program, a collaboration between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, Girls Scouts of Greater Atlanta and Historic Georgia, and the University of West Georgia, is on the right track.
Thankfully, we are witnessing signs of an awakening to address mental health issues at all levels which is exactly what’s needed. State lawmakers and the governor have prioritized investment in mental health programs. Examples include new state budget investments and policies to address mental health and mandating recess for our youngest learners. School districts are stepping up to the plate, too, implementing creative programming to meet the needs of students. For example, Henry County Schools have hired mental health and wellness facilitators for every single school across the district.
Physical activity is not a silver bullet, nor can it help prevent or serve as a single approach to the treatment of serious mental health issues. But, if we are looking to teach our kids strategies to shake off a tough day, a natural way to boost serotonin, and an easy habit as part of a mental health prevention rhythm, it can be a powerful tool that will serve our kids throughout their life.
Movement and play are so important for our kids. In fact, physical activity is among the most important preventative mental health strategies that we have. So whether you are a parent or a caregiver of any kind, the summer is around the corner and our kids need to keep moving. And don’t overthink it. Put on some music and have a dance party in the kitchen, set limits on screen time, and invite kids to join you on a walk. Kids need playtime and movement, but adults do, too. At HealthMPowers we’re calling for a mindful movement. We’re working with hundreds of schools across the state to get kids moving more throughout the day through initiatives like Power UP for 30, MOVE specifically targeting schools with a majority free-reduced lunch population, and an ever-expanding Student Health Advocate program mobilizing the next generation of health leaders.
Get moving with the kids in your life and be part of an awakening to harness a simple and proven method to develop healthy mental and physical habits. In some ways, the simple act of movement is revolutionary. A mindful movement in the spirit of pulling out every single tool we can to meet the great needs of this moment and those to come in the future.