A pandemic that has raised the anxiety level of just about everyone on the planet has also inspired an antidote — the 2020 Vera French Mental Health Challenge to fortify our mental wellness. The 45-day challenge began Aug. 26, the birthday of the woman whose 45-year career at Vera French Mental Health Center in Davenport inspired the initiative, Chris McCormick Pries, an active Catholic in our diocese.
This is not a race to the finish. It is an opportunity for each of us to slow down, to take a moment to think about our mental health and well-being, incorporating one of five doable strategies into our daily routine. “This is a personal journey,” McCormick Pries says. “What has prevented you from looking at your own mental health?” She includes families in this journey. “We are challenging people to meet the moment.”
“Everybody in our country and in the world needs a little bit of help and support,” says Nathan Sondgeroth, executive director of the Vera French Foundation. Consider the five strategies listed below as an investment in our mental wellness. At the same time, we can support the foundation’s efforts to create the Women’s Mental Health Endowment and to support the agency’s operations. Make a $45 donation for persons ages 12 and older and $15 for younger youths by registering at (https://www.verafrenchmhc.org/).
Behavioral change is practiced over time, McCormick Pries says. She and the other experts at Vera French advise us to do just one thing each day for 45 days to invest in our mental wellness:
• Connecting (with nature and other people, especially those you may have lost touch with in your day-to-day routine and rush of modern life).
• Moving (physical activity, which connects the mind to the body, whether it is running, yoga, walking or any other thing the person is able and comfortable doing).
• Breathing (using time-tested breathing techniques and strategies to calm the mind, especially when events seem to start overwhelming you).
• Giving (whether it is a random act of kindness or a note of gratitude to someone who has helped you, science shows gratitude is good for the mind).
• Reflecting (whether it is through meditation, prayer or quiet reminiscing about joyful memories, things which help carve out quiet time).
Each strategy lends itself to an exploration of our spiritual roots, McCormick Pries says. Reach out to an old friend. Connect in a personal way with Jesus Christ. In participating in some form of physical activity, recall that our bodies are temples of God. That should affect how we treat our bodies. Practice breathing while listening to religious music or while engaged in contemplative prayer. Be mindful of giving of ourselves to others, as Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel. When we reflect in prayer, we call to mind an important part of Jesus’ ministry. He took time to pray. He journeyed with his disciples, taught them, shared stories with them, connected with them.
We are experiencing what Heidi Huiskamp Collins describes as a perfect storm of crises — the pandemic, racial inequality, economic disparity and natural disasters among them — which affects our mental well-being. Her company, Huiskamp Collins Investment, is a sponsor of the Mental Health Challenge because she is a longtime advocate of good mental health services. “As a mental health consumer, it is my greatest hope that by speaking out I will encourage people to seek services themselves.”
McCormick Pries, 71, retired this year from her full-time practice; however, she will work on a part-time basis at Vera French. She anticipated a retirement party at which she could enjoy the company of friends and colleagues, but the pandemic crashed the party plans. Ultimately, she is receiving something much greater — an opportunity to help us “meet the moment” with faith in the God who will guide us through this perfect storm.
Let us “Take the Mental Health Challenge,” for our well-being as individuals and as a community.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor