The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another. We have been tested as a nation, as communities, as a workforce and as parents. A 2021 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) looked at the mental and physical health of Americans one year into the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, it found that three in four adults surveyed reported high levels of stress related to the pandemic. This was the impetus for the first-ever Mental Health Action Day on May 20, 2021.
The inaugural Mental Health Action Day was such a success that this year organizations like the Arkansas Foodbank are doing even more to turn awareness into action on mental health.
We talked with Arkansas Foodbank’s CEO Rhonda Sanders to learn more about their plans for this year.
What is Mental Health Action Day?
Mental Health Action Day is one day that is entirely focused on driving people to improve their own mental health and that of those around them.
Why is the Arkansas Foodbank getting involved?
The Arkansas Foodbank is engaging in Mental Health Action Day because we recognize the link between food insecurity and poor mental health. One in five people in Arkansas faces the stress of food insecurity. Not knowing when and from where your next meal will come or not knowing how you will feed your children a balanced nutritious meal causes stress on individuals and families. We all know that stress leads to poor mental health and poor physical health outcomes.
We also recognize that someone who is struggling with mental health issues often has a hard time holding a job that will provide them with the financial stability that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. This can and does lead to food insecurity.
Food insecurity can lead to poor mental health and vice versa. This places the work of the Arkansas Foodbank in a position to have a positive effect on the mental health of those we serve. We are committed to being a part of the solution by providing food and connecting people to other essential services.
E8 focuses on creating and maintaining a reliable resource grid for Arkansas families. How important is the role of mental health on improving children and family outcomes?
Improving the mental health of families and children in Arkansas is possibly the most critical way we can make a difference for children in our state. A child’s ability to perform in school, study at home, engage appropriately in social settings and learn the necessary work skills for the future depends on their mental health and the mental health of those around them. We must ensure that direct services are available to help those who are dealing with these issues and that support services like food are available to help keep people out of the crisis while they are working to improve their mental health.
What is the Foodbank doing to mark Mental Health Action Day this year?
The Arkansas Foodbank is doing several things this year to honor Mental Health Action Day. We are starting with our own employees by promoting ways to reduce stress, manage a healthy lifestyle and how to ask for help. We have a wonderful Employee Assistance Program that encourages staff to use and regularly seek their input.
Second, we will promote Mental Health Action with our agencies. We have 320 local partners that work with people facing hunger every day. We will provide them with materials and websites that they can use for themselves and for clients.
Third, we will engage with our volunteers. We’re fortunate to utilize thousands of volunteers each year. And on Mental Action Day, we will promote volunteering as a way to not only give to others but as a way to give to yourself. Volunteering is a great way to improve your personal mental health because you are engaging with others and bringing a satisfying sense of purpose to your life when helping others. Additionally, we will have materials highlighting the prevalence of mental health issues in Arkansas and how to take action.
Finally, we will use our voice on social media to raise awareness about mental health and the connection to food insecurity.
When community partners are fully engaged, development outcomes improve for Arkansas children. Why is addressing mental health a priority for the Foodbank?
The “why” is pretty simple, in order for children to grow and develop into thriving adults they must have good mental health outcomes.
The “how” is more difficult. The Arkansas Foodbank knows that there are many reasons people struggle with mental health just like there are many reasons people face food insecurity. Improving both of these complex, cyclical issues requires personalized interventions targeting not only the individuals but the family as a whole. We feel it is imperative that the Arkansas Foodbank does its part to not only provide food for the here and now, but to help connect people facing both hunger and mental health issues with other services that can help them improve their well-being.
Join the Arkansas Foodbank for its Mental Health Action Day activities on May 19. Learn more at arkansasfoodbank.org/volunteer.
If you have concerns about your or someone else’s mental health, please contact a medical professional or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free, confidential conversation.