This week in Oakes at Growing Small Towns, we hosted Monica McConkey, licensed mental health counselor and founder of Eyes on the Horizon Consulting.
Her visit to our community was made possible (cost-free!) by ND Behavioral Health Division and their mental health block grant. If you're in North Dakota, we encourage you to explore their website for additional resources.
We believe in the power of supporting the people in the towns we serve to be as healthy and whole as possible. These sessions touch on the mental, emotional, and social components of health, which tend to be more readily overlooked than our physical health.
Monica was a perfect provider for our community. Her approach was practical, positive and forward-focused; she was also honest about the shortcomings we experience in this "resource desert" as it relates to mental health.
We are sharing ALL the resources from these 2 separate events.
The first was called Community-Based Suicide Prevention and Intervention Strategies. Our small town has been rocked by many deaths by suicide. As you'll hear in this recording, Monica validates the deep complexity of the pain of losing someone to suicide; all grief is real, but all grief is not the same.
Below is the video from her full session, along with her slides. We're choosing to not summarize her main points as there is a lot of in-person discussion that enriched the conversation. You just have to watch it.
Community-Based Suicide Prevention + Intervention Strategies
The following resource is something we're planning to deliver in person in Oakes as a follow up to this training. Building out this list for our town will absolutely be a fruitful exercise. If we gather any meaningful wisdom or ideas on this process for your community, we'll be sure to share it.
The next session is called Compassion Fatigue and dives into what this looks like for the "helping" professions.
Monica offers the "ABCs" of compassion fatigue and the discussion about how this presents itself in our communities was so real and relevant, we believe everyone in small towns should watch this one, too.
The interesting thing about compassion fatigue is that it really can affect people from many different backgrounds. It's not limited at all to just people who are in the medical field, human services, or emergency personnel.
But those people? Are absolutely ravaged by this and we need to help them.
To make access easier, we have linked all the pertinent resource links from Monica's slide deck directly here:
For those of you who love holding a real book in your hand, here are Monica's recommendations for books to support your learning.
Each one listed is linked out to Amazon, but as small-town lovers, naturally, we encourage you buy your books from an indie bookstore if there's one near you. Here in Oakes? We have an amazing little bookstore and coffee shop called Sweets n' Stories. If you message or call Heather, she'll happily order any of these books for you!
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (a very very cute children's book with a much deeper meaning for all)
The Summary We Can't Help But Offer
OK, so we said we weren't going to summarize, but seriously, we can't even help ourselves.
There are a few core "truths" that we want to make sure get plainly stated. These are foundational to wellbeing.
* You can't help others if you're not well *
It feels like this should go without saying, but it NEEDS to be said and reiterated over and over until people believe it.
The message that the quickest way to heal yourself is to pour into others (without proper context OR assessment of risk first) is unhelpful at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Wneed when they're struggling is someone to listen. Someone to let their dark and difficult thoughts see the light of day. Without judgement. As one of the participants said, "People need to hold positive regard for others."
* Shame only thrives in the dark *
What people often need when they're struggling is someone to listen. Someone to let their dark and difficult thoughts see the light of day. Without judgement. As one of the participants said, "held in positive regard".
We need to normalize not only having crappy thoughts and feelings, but also talking about them. When we say things out loud, the power of their grip lessens.
We can't change what we won't say out loud.
* You can't screw up caring *
One of the things we discussed a lot is the fear of saying/doing the "wrong" thing. Our fear of mucking things is up is keeping us from helping when we maybe could.
If you care about that person and your life would be different if they weren't here, that's all you need. Their struggles are officially "your business".
Reach out. Tell them what you see. Tell them what concerns you. Tell them what you're sensing. Tell them you love them and are worried about them.
Just say something.
You can't mess this up. Even if they get upset or offended, isn't that better than being dead?
Here's the bottom line: if we aren't going to include our mental/social/emotional states as a regular part of our conversations about wellbeing and health, we are going to continue to see rising rates of suicide, substance abuse, and other self-harming.
This isn't a "nice-to-have" conversation. This is a daily reality and we all have a responsibility to the people who make our lives what they are.
You don't have to attempt to save the world; start at home.
With the ones you love.
We sincerely hope these resources help. And we wish you and your entire small town good health and improved wellbeing.