Once upon a time, when someone retired, it signified the start of endless days of leisure and relaxation, TV watching, pleasure reading, and a bit of travel. Somewhere along the line, retirees decided they weren’t ready to call it a wrap on their productivity and vitality. Research shows that staying active, physically and mentally, keeps our bodies and minds strong and healthy. It’s good for us to have a raison d’être.
Mental Health is Health
The need to stay healthy in mind and body at any age cannot be ignored. The estimated 1 in 5 Americans with a mental health diagnosis doubled to 2 in 5 during 2020, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolation, fear, and financial worries put mental health and well-being to the test for millions as never before.
Mental illness is nothing new, sadly. Mood and behavioral afflictions have been documented throughout history. It wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that medical science recognized that certain mood, thinking, and behavior abnormalities were the result of dysfunctions of the brain.
On-ramp to Activism
Starting or furthering hobbies in retirement is practically tradition. Boomers are even encouraged to turn their hobbies into money-making ventures, doing what they love while generating a little extra income. And that’s a great idea. But wait, let me propose something a little different to do with your hobbies and life experience — activism.
Activism is the behavioral change cousin of advocacy. Research has shown that the most effective activism is one that matches your experience and skills with a personal passion.
Spotlight on Mental Health Activism
It started as a workshop presented by psychologist Terri Lyon and mental health activist Trish Lockard at the 2019 NAMI Tennessee State Convention (NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country). Terri and Trish encouraged participants to identify their passions, gifts, skills, and life experiences and, using a modified Venn diagram-like approach, craft an ideal activism opportunity for themselves. Positive feedback after the workshop became the genesis for their new book, Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism, which helps readers of all ages recognize that they already possess the gifts, skills, and knowledge needed to make a difference for those with a mental health diagnosis — the lived experience — and their families.
Let’s brainstorm hobbies and experiences that have been or could be used to make a difference on behalf of mental health.
The list of hobbies that can be turned to activism is endless: knitting, sewing, crocheting, pottery making, painting and drawing, gardening, and calligraphy, just to get things started.
Calligraphy? Painting? You could teach these, as all forms of art are proven to be excellent for alleviating anxiety and depression, for those with a diagnosis or a caregiver.
If you’re a gardener, grow plants to offer at a fundraiser for a local NAMI or Mental Health America fundraiser. Collaborate with a pottery maker to craft inspirational messages on the pots your plants go into.
If you think creatively about you bring to the table, the list of ways you could be a mental health activist truly is endless.
Mental health nonprofit organizations and agencies are often largely staffed by volunteers. Until you inquire within, you might not recognize how valuable your career skills are to these groups.
Were you a bookkeeper? Writer? Office or project manager? Programmer? Any work skill can find a home in a mental health nonprofit.
You Are Who We Need
You can be an activist for change for those with the lived experience of mental illness and their loved ones. Be a part of the movement with Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism: No activism degree required—use your unique skills to change the world, by Terri L Lyon and Trish Lockard.
About Trish Lockard
Mental health care is a personal passion for Trish. Mental health disorders (and one incident of suicide) are a reality in four generations of her family. She has been a volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Tennessee since 2014. She has served as her local affiliate's board chair, family support group facilitator, and certified classroom instructor. She is a freelance editor and writing coach. Contact Trish at email@example.com.
About Dr. Terri Lyon
Through her website Life At The Intersection, Terri spotlights the unique, creative, and sometimes surprising ways people make change happen through their activism. A licensed psychologist, her career experience includes government research, managing training at a Fortune 500 company, consulting, and almost 40 years teaching graduate students. She is the treasurer of a credit union and a professional arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau. Contact Terri at firstname.lastname@example.org