Advocating for Mental Health
Nonprofit Mental Fitness seeks to break stigmas
Sometimes the path to good mental health can become a journey. LORI BURNEY believes it can start with prevention. As the executive director of Mental Fitness Inc., she feels making mental health a community concern is the first step.
“We must take care of our minds just as we do our bodies,” she says. “We live in a time where school shootings, suicides, and risky behaviors among teens are almost commonplace, and that’s not okay.”
Introducing healthy coping skills through engaging activities and artistic expression are ways that Mental Fitness hopes to break the mental health stigma in communities. “We are working towards creating a safer environment where we live, work, and play,” Burney says.
The organization works with local nonprofits and agencies by providing workshops and resources. For example, Mental Fitness has a rich history of working with school districts incorporating social and emotional learning in their daily lessons. “We don’t require them to implement yet another curriculum into their routine,” Burney says.” We show them how to integrate our methods into their current class plans and daily schedule.”
Mental Fitness wants to fill the gap in mental health services in the area. “Currently, there’s roughly one mental health professional to every 504 individuals,” Burney says.
One of the main goals of the organization is to reduce the need for professional intervention by offering valuable tools from the onset. Resources such as MENTAL FITNESS in-a-Box have proven successful by introducing quick and easy healthy coping skills to add into daily routines. “We focus on prevention instead of intervention,” she says.
Targeting a specific group, such as youth, is one way the organization is also hoping to be effective. The MindSet Development Workshop at Mental Fitness provides critical mental health resources to parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, and group leaders who work with that particular age. Participants learn how to provide simple, practical methods to manage stress and to cope with adversity in a healthy way.
Burney relocated to Wilmington last summer to begin integrating Mental Fitness initiatives throughout North Carolina.
“I was seeking a community closer to the beach, and I was impressed with the culture of philanthropy and collaboration among nonprofit agencies in New Hanover County,” she says. She first joined the organization as a development consultant, assisting with fundraising strategies and strategic planning. When offered the executive director position, there was not a second thought. “I immediately saw so much potential for the organization to grow nationally and wanted to be a part of the great work they were doing,” Burney says.
Mental wellness is close to Burney’s heart.
Unfortunately, she has lost family members and friends to suicide “I believe mental health is the root of many problems people face in their relationships and their ability to cope with daily life,” she says. She believes reducing the stigma around mental health begins with education and acceptance. “By creating opportunities, encouraging conversations, and sharing success stories of individuals who have successfully learned to manage their thoughts and emotions in a healthy way, we can create a thriving community.”
To view more of photographer Aris Harding’s work, go to arisharding.com.
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