An Expert Weighs In: How CHWs Can Protect Their Mental Health

Mental health is crucial in every aspect of daily life. Experts explain that poor mental health can lead to unemployment, disability, heart disease, isolation, substance use and suicide. Subsequently, more efforts and conversations exist about mental health resources and services to improve people’s quality of life. Unfortunately, men are often left out of the conversation. And one group of men faces even more challenges when it comes to mental health: community health workers (CHWs). 

It is well-known that healthcare workers experience higher stress, anxiety and burnout rates than other professionals. In fact, 93% of healthcare workers reported feeling stressed and stretched too far thin. Health workers face increased stress and anxiety because of work demands, uncertain or variable schedules, intense emotional situations from work and other factors. These challenges are present for CHWs, as well. 

The challenges of the healthcare profession put male CHWs at increased risk of anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. Additionally, mental health stigma makes male CHWs even less likely to get the help they need. Omar Jones, community health leader and advocate, explains that men may feel weak or judged for seeking mental health services, but male CHWs have a unique dual role in the mental health field.  

First, it’s crucial for male CHWs – and all CHWs and health professionals – to seek mental health help and prioritize self-care because it can prevent exhaustion and burnout. “Healthcare workers often encounter stressful situations, including sickness, death and limited resources. Good mental health helps us cope with these challenges without succumbing to burnout,” Jones says. “CHWs with good mental health are more likely to find satisfaction in their work, which can lead to longer tenures and reduced turnover.” 

Second, male CHWs can reduce stigma by actively prioritizing their mental health, which can help other men do the same. Stigma reduction leads to positive outcomes in the CHW’s life and the lives of community members. “Male CHWs often serve as role models in our communities. When male CHWs prioritize their own mental health and are open about it, we can help reduce this stigma. When we exhibit good mental health and well-being, we can influence others to prioritize and seek help for their own mental health needs.” 

How One Community Health Leader Prioritizes His Mental Health

Jones understands that others in his community look up to him as a role model, and he knows that when his mental health is low, he cannot bring his best self to his work. So, Jones engages in self-care activities to improve and protect his mental health. Self-care “means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.” For Jones, self-care is an ever-changing process of discovering what does and doesn’t work for him. “My self-care is evolving. Taking care of myself leads me to more self-discovery, self-love and self-respect.” 

For Jones, much of his self-care involves connecting with his thoughts and feelings. “I invest time in meditation, journaling my thoughts and feelings, dreaming, visualizing and setting new goals,” Jones explains. Jones also prioritizes activities and hobbies that fill his cup. “I enjoy golfing, rock wall climbing, reading and listening to motivational material, sketching and designing, gardening and spending quality time with my family.” 

Jones also engages in more classic forms of self-care, including therapy. “I recite my personal affirmations regularly to encourage myself and remind myself of who I am. There is a saying that ‘in a multitude of counselors, there is safety.’ Professional counseling has helped me to regulate my emotions, recenter myself and reconnect with my authentic self.” 

Jones leaves us with a final thought about mental health – for men, male CHWs and society. “It’s inevitable that we all will face mental and emotional struggles. Men need genuine support, encouragement and safe spaces to be vulnerable and process thoughts and feelings. We need to dismantle discriminatory systems.” And Jones has recommendations for how we can do this. “We must share personal stories and experiences, participate in mental health awareness campaigns and utilize social media platforms to destigmatize mental health discussions. We need to normalize encouraging each other to take care of our mental, emotional and behavioral health.” 

5 Self-Care Activities to Help Improve Your Mental Health 

Although it can be intimidating to start prioritizing your mental health, there are many self-care activities you can use that easily fit into everyday life. Below are five easy ways you can improve your mental health through self-care. 

  1. Exercise regularly: Physical activity plays a significant role in improving mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters that can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Remember that a walk with your dog counts! 
  1. Eat a healthy diet: Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can positively impact your mental health. Foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins and minerals can help regulate mood and reduce the risk of mental health issues. Limit processed foods, sugar and caffeine. 
  1. Prioritize adequate sleep: Quality sleep is crucial for mental well-being. Ensure you get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to allow your body and mind to rest and rejuvenate.  
  1. Manage stress: Chronic stress can take a toll on your mental health. Learn and practice stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing or yoga. These practices can help you better cope with stress and improve mental resilience. 
  1. Make social connections: Building and maintaining solid connections can provide emotional support and boost mental health. Spend time with friends and family, engage in social activities and seek support when needed. Loneliness and social isolation can contribute to mental health issues, so fostering relationships is essential. 

At Everyday Life Consulting, we believe in protecting and preserving men’s mental health. Follow us on social media for more articles and posts about necessary personal and community steps to destigmatize men’s mental health. 

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khigley