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5 actions, emotional toolkit to bolster better wellbeing in STL region

Choose a belief system that cancels hopelessness and anchors you in something significantly bigger than yourself.
Credit: The St. Louis American
St. Louisans spectators young and old enjoyed the 113th annual Annie Malone Parade on May 21, 2023. Photo by Wiley Price.

ST. LOUIS — Since 2017, firearm-related injuries have been the most common cause of death from injury among youth in America. Sadly, St. Louis leads the nation for firearm injuries of children. 

Mental illness is on the rise, and suicide has been the second leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Numerous St. Louis student incidents and suicides have broken our hearts and fractured our faith in some social systems. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and with our first mass school shooting in St. Louis this 2022-23 school year, we understand the intersectionality of these epidemics and our wellbeing.

Choose a belief system that cancels hopelessness and anchors you in something significantly bigger than yourself.  

Health equity and mental health are at the heart of issues of ill-being. After years of impactful work with experts Pediatricians Jason Newland, M.D., and Sarah Garwood, M.D., Psychiatrist Joan Luby, M.D., and Economist Carol Graham, Ph.D., and others, there are bold actions that can help individuals through any challenge and help our region flourish and thrive even more.

Partnering with Washington University and Dr. Luby, the study Early Emotion Development Intervention Improves Mental Health Outcomes in Low-income High-Risk Community Children was produced. 

We can reduce ill-being and bolster greater wellbeing. Vital takeaways from my sessions with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Johns Hopkins University ALACRITY, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services summarize substantive insights and actions we must expand in the St. Louis region and beyond. There are five actions that can help us grow beyond the way things are into a future where wellbeing is commonplace.  

Belonging reduces isolation and callousness. F.I.T. or fundamental insights into teams and tensions matter. Every family, home, office, class, or group has a culture, roles, and hidden rules of teaming or teamwork for harmony, happiness, and success or the lack thereof. Make the rules clearly known and inclusively owned. 

Find ways to say, through genuine action: I see you; I support you; we have a purpose, past, present, and future here; I appreciate and want to understand you. Simplistically stated, individuals often don't care what you know until they know that you care and want to understand them.

Boundaries reduce carelessness and harmfulness. Adults and children need boundaries. Generally, individuals, especially children, seek to understand and be understood. When you know your boundaries and roles, you become empowered by your power, purpose, and limits. 

Set social, physical, and emotional boundaries early and refine them often. The lack of limits, boundaries, oversight, and supervision allows some of the most harmful thoughts, actions, habits, vices, and tragedies to take root and occur. List your harmful habits and start eliminating them through boundaries. 

Balance! We need good books and relationships for our brain and mind; rest and exercise for our body; meaningful songs, gratitude, praises, prayer, and meditation for our spirit; and purposeful work, which is more than just another job, to increase our healthy habits. 

Establish a life mission statement that encapsulates your core purpose and value for your time. Review your mission and purpose. Revise regularly in scope and scale. Remember, to everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose.

Behavior modification: 

Often, I advise people to create a powerful sacred emotional toolkit (S.E.T.) to detach from the harm and reattach to the helpful and increase personal wellbeing, including the following activities.

Taste: Healthy diet and watch out for alcohol, drugs, poisoned water and food, sugars, and fatty foods. 

Hear positivity: Listen to uplifting music, words, and things while surrounding yourself with soul-fuel, not soul-sucking feuds. Our attitude and altitude are often determined by the five people we spend the most time around. Thus, partner with helpers, not hurters.  

See: Visualize your happy and healthy place at least once a day. Have a picture of it, a plan to visit it, a strategy to build it, and a vision to strive to reach it. We see with our eyes; we envision with our hearts. 

Smell: Scents stimulate feelings, emotions, thoughts, and memories. Know the smells that produce joyful emotions, memories, thoughts, positive places, and past, present, and future periods. Create and have accessible smells for peace, foods you like, things or people you love.

Healthy Touch: Touch is a love language for some and a source of trauma (i.e., A.C.E.) for others. Know if it is a massage, hug, high-five, gardening, washing dishes for the sake of touching water and soap and a thoughtless activity, or the absence of touch. Clearly set boundaries with others to experience what is healthiest for you.

S.E.T. Actions: Perform acts of kindness to a stranger, loved one, or friend. Sleep well. Take nature walks, exercise, breathe well, and consider yoga. Treat yourself to a day just for you with no technology use. 

Finally, your belief system matters! Never underestimate the power of hope. Choose a belief system that cancels hopelessness and anchors you in something significantly bigger than yourself. Hope is an action as much as a thing. If hope fails, find the spiritual strength to hold on, believing brighter days are ahead. 

Consistent, expansive application of these bold actions will bring better wellbeing, bolstering you and those around you to flourish.

Art McCoy, Ph.D., is a Saint Louis University Distinguished Fellow and Superintendent-in-Residence, Mental Health America Board Director, and Saint Louis Children's Hospital Chair of the Community Benefit and Health Improvement Committee.

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