Now Viewing: Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Does the Mind Impact Health? A Researcher’s Insights

Oct 12, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Alia Crum

Psychologist Alia Crum’s research reveals that the way we think about our health can change our health outcomes. She explains the surprising ways mindsets influence health, and how we can use them to improve well-being.

Three days before my regional gymnastics meet in Arkansas I landed awkwardly on a practice vault, clashing my inner ankle bones. The pain was excruciating—as was the prospect of an injury crushing my dream of competing nationally. I was determined to go on, so I decided to adopt the mindset that I could mentally overcome my physical injury. I diligently iced, taped and tended to it while visualizing myself making it to nationals in spite of the setback.

I competed and placed high enough to qualify, and was elated as well as surprised by how little the pain had affected me. Another surprise: An x-ray the next day showed that my ankle had been broken.

My experience at age 10 shows the power of mindset—the frame of mind through which we perceive, interpret, and organize an inherently complex world. The ability to make sense of the world through our mindsets is a natural part of being human. But the mindsets we hold are not inconsequential. In fact they change reality by influencing our attention, affect, motivation, and physiology. I had decided my injury wasn’t going to influence my performance, and almost impossibly, it didn’t.

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Innovations from Abroad Are Keeping Seniors Socially Connected

Apr 13, 2017, 10:00 AM, Posted by Susan Mende

From a dementia village to the next AirBnB for seniors, global entrepreneurs are searching for ways to improve the lives of a rapidly aging population. Their lessons can inform efforts right here in the United States where the elderly population is expected to more than double by 2060.

Through the plate glass window of the café where I sipped my coffee, I watched an older gentleman bend to pick something off the ground. He did this repeatedly: down and up, down and up. I learned that he did this every day for hours, picking up fallen leaves.

The man had dementia and lived in Hogewey, a community outside Amsterdam where older people with advanced dementia lead largely autonomous lives in familiar, welcoming surroundings. This particular gentleman liked to pick up leaves—and why not? It did him no harm; in fact, it gave him a little exercise, and he probably found the activity relaxing.

Hogewey is unique—a gated, village-like community where those with dementia live in small-group homes that look and feel like real homes, with people of similar backgrounds and experiences. Caregiving and other staff support them in everyday activities and blend into the environment, serving as grocery store clerks, hairdressers, bartenders, and neighbors.

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Helping Young People in Crisis, One Text at a Time

Feb 16, 2017, 8:00 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

Crisis Text Line uses technology to help adolescents struggling with issues like bullying and anxiety. Now, researchers are using data compiled through this effort to better understand and address patterns of adolescent mental health needs within communities.

It began with a shocking text message that left the staff at DoSomething.org deeply shaken.

The non-profit organization was originally created to promote youth volunteer and social action opportunities. It uses texting—the primary way in which teens communicate—to send thousands of daily messages alerting members to clothing drives, health fairs, park clean-ups, and more. Responses have been common. In addition to the usual sign-up requests, texters have also sought advice on how to handle a bully at school or help a friend struggling with addiction.

But as DoSomething’s CEO Nancy Lublin explained in a memorable TED Talk, one particular message from an anonymous girl changed their world.

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6 Reasons Why Parks Matter for Health

Aug 22, 2016, 1:45 PM, Posted by Teresa Mozur

As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary of beauty, recreation, and conservation this summer, we asked six leaders why access to public land is vital to everyone's physical and mental health.

A couple looking at the mountains. Yosemite National Park

The National Park Service celebrates its centennial this week, and our national parks have never been more appreciated; visitors made a record-breaking 307.2 million visits to them in 2015. But what many park goers may not realize is that the access to natural scenery and park activities national parks provide play a role in improving health. In fact, research shows that using public parks—even tiny local ones in your neighborhood—contributes to health in a number of ways, from promoting physical activity to improving mental health and even having the potential to reduce health care costs.

To celebrate this milestone in American history, the Culture of Health blog's editorial team asked six leaders to give us their reasons why parks matter for health.

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Why Ashoka is Investing in Children's Wellbeing

May 25, 2016, 2:04 PM, Posted by Tim Scheu

Why is the organization that coined the term “social entrepreneur” putting an emphasis on children's well-being? Because it's a critical step in fostering changemakers in our communities.

Did you know that a playground for elephants needs water, plants and rhino playmates? Or that ‘Frogtown,’ the Kermit-friendly analog, needs a rainforest canopy to enable sound sleep and protection for eggs? At least, that was the case during an empathy exercise at Ashoka’s “Bring Your Child to Work Day.”

Even at a young age, children understand the multiple facets of wellbeing: safety and physical fitness, but also emotional attachment. As caregivers for the imaginary animals that populated their cardboard playgrounds, our children wanted a culture of health. As a father to three little girls, I want that same thing.

But in the United States, we don’t often operate from a mindset of wellbeing—or rather, we’re preoccupied with a very limited definition of wellbeing. The individuals, communities, and societies that surround us tend to view wellbeing as only material or physical wellness. Is that playground really safe? How many children are visiting the hospital every year? How many are living outside of homes? This approach to wellbeing creates structures which are reactionary, deficit-oriented and focused on reducing the negative effects of physical harm. We can do better.

Fortunately, leading social entrepreneurs like Dr. Terrie Rose are on the case. Using her venture, Baby’s Space, to transform the norms of childcare in low income neighborhoods, Terrie is ensuring that young children are not only safe, but are also offered emotional stability and opportunities for attachment with their caregivers. Tomas Alvarez is another example. Through Beats Rhymes and Life, Tomas works with mental health workers to offer a hip-hop-based therapy alternative to kids that have felt marginalized by traditional services.

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Can Sports Help Young People Heal From Trauma?

Apr 11, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by David S. Cohen

A local Boston organization is using sports to transform the lives of youth suffering from trauma and its emotional aftermath.

Sport has the power to change the world...it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. – Nelson Mandela

When I describe the harrowing circumstances of the youth I work with to reporters, philanthropists, family and friends, they can’t believe that I’m describing the lives of young people in America.

Many of these youth have endured deeply traumatic experiences: crime, abuse, incarceration, domestic or community violence, addiction and even sexual exploitation. Often, they don’t want to talk about the issues they’ve faced—or they don’t know how to.

Yet when you put a ball in their hands, they suddenly light up!

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Collaborating Across Sectors to Grow Healthy Kids

Sep 30, 2015, 1:21 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Schools are usually considered to be part of a system separate from the health care system, but they play an important role in building a Culture of Health. See how cross-sector collaborations can ensure children strong starts to healthy, productive lives.

At Cincinnati's Oyler School, I watched as a third-grader received a free eye exam and then pored over the selection of eyeglasses, trying on several pairs, eventually settling on a pair of funky blue frames. He shared that he was looking forward to receiving his glasses, which he'd be able to take home for free the following week. The student’s teacher had noticed that he was having trouble seeing the board in their classroom and was empowered to do something about it. By forging partnerships with nonprofits and government agencies, Oyler has created a vision center, health clinic and dental clinic—all within the school.

Oyler has undergone a transformation over the last decade—from a school plagued by increasing poverty and declining enrollment to a school that is boosting graduation rates and helping improve the surrounding community. Oyler ensures students and their families have access to healthy meals by providing kids breakfast, lunch and dinner and sending them home with food on the weekends. It is part of a movement to create "community schools" that address kids' health needs and get them access to resources that allow them to succeed in the classroom and for years to come.

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Some Unconventional Approaches to Stress: Pioneering Ideas Podcast Episode 7

Jan 29, 2015, 7:00 PM, Posted by Lori Melichar

(Please note that this podcast player might not work in some versions of Internet Explorer. Please view this page in another browser, such as Chrome, Firefox or Safari. You may also access the episode via SoundCloud.)

A man asking for money on the subway this week told me how Hurricane Sandy led to a series of events that left him stressed out by the challenges of putting food on the table for his children.

Recessions, hurricanes, violence—how many ways can we count that add stress to our lives? Whether dealing with economic stress, the stress of caring for an aging parent, or even the stress of keeping up with email, research shows that all of it affects our health. As Alexandra Drane, a guest in the latest episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, puts it: “When life goes wrong, health goes wrong.”

This episode of the Pioneering Ideas podcast explores unconventional approaches to tackling stress­—and other health problems—with energizing possibilities that could also transform health and health care. From monitoring electricity use as a way of helping the elderly stay in their homes, to measuring the indirect health effects of social services (what if heating assistance led to greater medication adherence?), these conversations offer cutting-edge ideas for building a Culture of Health.

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Preparing Family Caregivers to Provide High-Quality Care for People with Dementia

Jan 22, 2015, 9:00 AM

Tatiana Sadak, PhD, PMHNP, is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013-2016). She is working to promote “dementia caregiver activation,” a process of preparing caregivers to become ready to manage the multiple needs of loved ones with dementia while caring for themselves.

The well-documented personal and societal burdens of dementia are the central focus of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, which calls for extensive reforms in the delivery of health care for patients with dementia and their family caregivers. RWJF answered this national call to action by funding several innovative dementia health services research projects and nurturing the careers of junior dementia researchers.

I was fortunate to receive RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars funding. It will make it possible for me to focus a majority of my time on improving health services for people living with dementia and for their family care partners—or ‘caregivers.’

Dementia patients suffer brain failure that leads to progressive loss of autonomy and the inability to understand and meet personal health care needs. Clinicians conduct health assessments, create care plans, and treat symptoms, but it is dementia family caregivers who deliver the day-to-day care and health management these patients need. There is, however, considerable variation in their capacity to assist care recipients in making health care decisions, for providing daily care, and for navigating health care systems.

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Restoring Dignity to Those with Dementia

Jan 21, 2015, 4:00 PM

Judy Berry is the founder of Dementia Specialist Consulting and the Lakeview Ranch Model of Specialized Dementia Care in Darwin, Minn., and a 2010 recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders award.

I live in rural Minnesota, and my passion is to make a significant contribution to improving dementia care in our society and to be an advocate for all seniors with dementia in their quest to maintain their basic human right to dignity, choice, and quality of life until their death.

My mother, Evelyn Holly, passed away 16 years ago. She spent the last seven years of her life being bounced from one nursing home or residential dementia facility to another, and in and out of hospital geri-psych units, all because of her so-called “challenging and aggressive behavior.” She spent the last year of her life strapped in a chair and drugged so she would be “compliant.” I imagine many of you have had similar experiences. Click on this link to view a video about my personal struggle with dementia care—a struggle that has fueled my passion to improve it.

After many years of heartache and frustration in my struggle to find appropriate care for my mother, and after being told repeatedly by others in the health care industry that the kind of dignified care that I visualized was impossible because it was too expensive, I discovered that I could not find any financial support for trying something different. I decided to use my own life savings to try to develop a model of specialized dementia care that would focus on the unmet emotional and spiritual needs of persons with dementia, many of whom are unable to communicate those needs, and to meet their physical needs as well.

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