Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the month of May since 1949.

Now let’s fast forward to the year 2020; we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, practicing social distancing, experiencing amounts of isolation, trying to “shelter in place,” and even hoarding large amounts of toilet paper. Not to mention, some of us are experiencing challenges with working from home, homeschooling our kids, and even trying to stay motivated to eat healthy and exercise from our living rooms.

Our mental health is being tested and tried now more than ever, and it only seems appropriate to continue our efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness by becoming more open about discussing the challenges and struggles we are facing on a day to day basis.

Last year alone, over 200 volunteer ambassadors in our community were trained to present the Make It OK campaign, a presentation about reducing the stigma of mental illness. In an effort to expand this movement, Crow Wing Energized partnered with the Brainerd Public Schools Foundation and Essentia Health – St. Joseph’s Foundation and received a grant from Sourcewell to implement a similar youth-based curriculum at Brainerd High School, Forestview Middle School, and Central Lakes College.

Al Gawboy
Al Gawboy

I was hired in early fall of 2019 to research evidence-based youth curriculums and successfully implement an upstream suicide prevention program in spring of 2020 that would later be replicated in surrounding communities. Our efforts were put on hold in mid-March when schools began to close their doors due to the global pandemic.

Although this changed our implementation plan to fall 2020, it did not stop my motivation or my passion from growing even deeper about discussing mental health. My focus soon turned to focusing on educating our entire community (virtually) through radio interviews, newspaper articles, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and Zoom calls.

Reducing the stigma associated with mental health will ultimately allow struggling individuals to get the help they need before their thoughts and actions become fatal. It’s not only important that these individuals feel safe enough to talk about their emotions to a trusted adult, but to build their resiliency and coping mechanisms for challenges they face in life.

COVID-19 has had catastrophic effects on our mental health, and is triggering those who already suffer from anxiety and depression. Now more than ever, it’s crucial we talk about our mental health, how to cope, and how to overall build resiliency.

So what is resilience exactly? Resilience is the completely natural ability we all have to recover after facing a difficulty in our lives; it’s the ability to spring back after something happens. Resilience helps us get back up when we fall down and face the next thing and the next thing after that.

I like to think of resilience as a jar that we have stored in our bodies. We are all using some of the “juice” in the jar right now just dealing with all the different changes in our lives currently — not being able to visit our friends, being quarantined in our homes, canceling vacations, etc. Some of us have more “juice” in our jars than others, but it’s not about how large your capacity is for dealing with challenges, but how much you are keeping your resilience tank filled up.

Everyday ways to build resiliency:

  • Talk about your feelings with friends and trusted adults,
  • Track your emotions in a journal or in your phone,
  • Be able to recognize triggers that lead to negative thoughts or stress,
  • Practice positive self-talk and daily affirmations,
  • Set goals — both daily and long term,
  • Incorporate relaxation and deep breathing meditation,
  • Continue to build relationships with supportive and caring adults within our community
  • and family systems,
  • Engage in activities that provide meaning such as volunteering,
  • Make sure your most basic needs are met,

o Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, o Get good quality sleep, o Eat a diet of whole foods, o Get a yearly physical.

When feeling some of these “big emotions,” it’s important to rely on the strengths we already have that lift us up and give us strength and hope. This month, Crow Wing Energized will be featuring a virtual “What Helps Me” campaign from Brainerd lakes community members, highlighting the strengths and support systems they rely on during difficult times. Be sure to visit our Facebook page at to view the What Helps Me posts, and check out our website at for more resiliency tools.