From the President

Focusing on wellness: Putting the health back into mental health

Bradley T. Erford November 1, 2012

Over the past few months, our country has been deeply saddened by numerous violent tragedies, including the massacre of 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and six Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin. In addition to the tragic deaths, many others were injured and numerous others traumatized or otherwise affected by these events. Although all of these events are painful to our collective society, some hit much closer to home than others. One of the victims of the Colorado shooting was a student member of the ACA family. Many ACA professional and student members are faithful Sikhs. In an August school shooting in Baltimore County, Md., in which a student with Down syndrome was shot and, fortunately, survived, a graduate of my school counseling program subdued the shooter before more devastation could take place. At ACA, our thoughts, prayers and most heartfelt condolences go to all those affected by these and numerous other tragedies.

These violent tragedies occur for many reasons, although in the aftermath, none of these reasons seems to make much sense. What we do know is that the perpetrators often feel socially disconnected and marginalized. Whether perpetrators, victims or bystanders, many of those involved in crisis situations will suffer mental health-related complications.

One of the mental health complications that affects many in our society is depression. This month’s cover story focuses on depression, which unfortunately is an all-too-commonly encountered problem among those with whom we work. Depression has touched all of us in some way, and each of us has at some point pondered the question, “How has depression taken such a hold on people in our society, and what can we do to prevent it?”

A philosophical cornerstone of the counseling profession is wellness, and this focus is central to how counselors address clients’ mental health struggles. We help our students and clients focus on wellness, but as counselors, do we regularly focus on our own personal wellness? How many of us live by the mantra (of myriad financial advisers), “Pay yourself first”? We all know that if we do not take excellent care of ourselves, we will be less able to care for those who depend on us — our children, our parents, our friends, our colleagues and, yes, our clients and students. And because counselors often deal with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in — if you feel demoralized and exhausted — it is best for the sake of everyone to withdraw and restore yourself. Whether you are a client or a counselor, the point is to have a long-term wellness perspective.

Yet, we too often run ourselves ragged, deteriorate and then focus on fixing what is broken. We are told there is not enough money to pay for wellness and prevention services and also fund remediation and crisis services. This begs the age-old question: Why is there never enough money to do it right, but there is always enough money to do it over? But I believe our advocacy efforts promoting the cost-effectiveness of wellness are paying off, systemically and individually.

From time to time in our day-to-day struggles, it is important to ask our clients, our students, our friends, our loved ones and ourselves, “What makes us ‘come alive’”? Wellness and health affect your body, but they also reflect the well-being of your state of mind, your relationships — and your spirit. These attitudes make us resilient as we face the challenges of living full and meaningful lives. As advocates for our clients and the counseling profession, we all need to do our part as individuals and professionals to keep the “health” in mental health. Be well!

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