A community view of mental health

In Palm Beach County, Florida residents tackle neighborhood problems together. Teamwork and commitment to inclusiveness and citizen participation helped the county earn a RWJF Culture of Health award.

Six communities that are part of the Place-based Healthy Together initiative are asking local people what: she care the most. Sometimes surprising answers are given to their questions. Many residents say they want to focus on mental health and that “feeling whole in mind, body and spirit” is really important to them. But the way they think about mental health is often different from the way a clinician views it. “It’s not a traditional definition, it’s their definition,” said Jeanette Gordon, whose Healthier Neighbors Project in Riviera Beach and north West Palm Beach is all about fostering engagement, empowerment, and balance.

Organizing a multi-generational street cleanup may not seem closely linked to mental health at first glance, but the Healthier Lake Worth Beach community saw it as a natural fit. “They wanted to create the conditions for their children to thrive,” explains Pat McNamara, CEO of Palm Health Foundation, which co-funds Healthier Together. And what could be better for emotional well-being than that? Under the umbrella of mental health, Palm Beach County communities also set other priorities, all of which are identified by those who live there, including accessing healthy food, addressing the root causes of trauma and violence, and creating opportunities for young people.

Increasingly, residents recognize themselves as part of a nationwide movement to celebrate behavioral wellness. Whether they participate in guided group discussions with peers, express their emotions in murals, take to heart the reassurance that “it’s okay to cry”, or release pent-up fear by dancing, they respond to the message that their feelings are normal and deserve. it to be honored. “See you,” Angela Williams called out as she led a fitness class at a healthier neighborhood park in Delray Beach. It was a shoutout to an enthusiastic group moving vigorously to a beat, but it was also a broader statement about the importance of becoming visible.

In 2017, the BeWellPBC initiative was launched to amplify voices in Palm Beach County that were too often disregarded when scheduling conversations about behavioral health services. The initiative brings together ‘lived experts’ with ‘learned experts’ to foster community-driven dynamics that promote a collaborative approach to mental health. The BeWellPBC philosophy is based on ‘being’ statements: be hopeful, understood, supported, connected, informed, open, compassionate and transformative – and be yourself. Within that authentic framework, mindsets can be changed and systems revised.

Pat McNamara formulated a theme that runs through all of this work: solutions to mental health challenges are best forged in a climate of collaboration between those most affected by them. “If we learn to live better together and take care of each other, we are healthier,” he said.

Look at this video about Palm Beach County and learn more about this Culture of Health Prize winning community.

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