June is Men’s Health Month, a national campaign focused on issues that disproportionately affect men, like heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. This year’s current events, from the COVID-19 pandemic to racial tensions in recent weeks, shines a much needed light on mental health.
Oklahoma City’s Energy FC soccer team recently partnered with NAMI Oklahoma to encourage exercise, which has positive mental health benefits.
Public health and your mental health: why now
Depression and anxiety also correlate with stress, worry and isolation. Mental health conditions are being triggered as a result of COVID-19, grief and uncertainty, the economic crisis and repeated incidents of racism-related violence and death.
We are all experiencing some degree of anxiety at this time and whether we seek help for that or not, it does impact our well-being. Exercise is associated with positive brain chemistry. Positive social interaction is also vital for us as humans.
The temporary closure of fitness centers and public parks also negatively impacts mental health, as exercise routines and lifestyle habits change in response to social distancing. A trending need
Health professionals have noted an increase in patients seeking mental health services since March 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tulsa’s Healthy Minds Policy Initiative anticipates as many as 13,000 new cases of substance use disorders as a direct result of COVID-19’s impact. Stigma often prevents those who need help from seeking treatment for mental health conditions, an issue experts theorize may keep men in particular from reaching out.
NAMI reports that men are statistically less likely to seek help for mental health conditions. Suicide and depression listed as a leading cause of death for men, who are 3.54% more likely to commit suicide than women and also have a higher rate of substance abuse, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Support Men’s Health Month with these seven activities
June 19 is Wear Blue Day for Men’s Health Day. Consider hosting a theme day at your workplace and sharing team photos with the hashtag #ShowUsYourBlue.
Surprise Dad this Father’s Day with a health-themed gift like exercise clothes, new running shoes, a gym membership or just the gift of time out to exercise.
Set up a family workout routine. Play sports or take a walk together. Try a YouTube aerobics class or challenge each other to an obstacle course.
Women can encourage the men in their lives to make an appointment, step up their level of physical activity by working out together and having conversations about mental wellness.
Consider doing a mental health check-up with a family therapist.
Find resources from NAMI created especially for people of color at https://bit.ly/mentalhealthforall.
Participate in a virtual support group coordinated by NAMI Oklahoma and its affiliates at https://bit.ly/virtualNAMIOK.
OKC Energy FC: Men’s fitness inspiration
Players for the OKC Energy FC, Oklahoma City’s soccer team, know all about working out together but separately. During Oklahoma City’s mandated closures, they trained via Zoom twice each week, worked out alone in the team’s facility and participated in NAMI Oklahoma’s Move for Mental Health initiative.
“Our soccer players are training at home to keep up their physical fitness but they’re also engaging in activities like yoga, breathing, self-help reading and public speaking when possible,” said Tyler Vaughn, the team’s communications and public relations manager. “What these athletes realize is that they can hit the gym all day long, but especially at this level, if they’re not at their best mentally, that can make all the difference in how they play.”
Cody Laurendi and Kyle Hyland are two of the players featured in last month’s campaign. Videos of the team exercising were posted to NAMI Oklahoma’s Facebook page throughout the month of May.
“Hyland and Laurendi have been here in Oklahoma City the longest, about five years, and they’re always looking for ways to be part of the community, whether that’s working with kids or reminding adults they can be at their best too,” said Vaughn. “Every person has mental health just like they have physical health. Athletes have to recognize that component of wellness and our players want to encourage others to take care of themselves.”
Fitness profile: Cody Laurendi
Cody Laurendi, 30, is best known locally for his role as the Energy’s goalkeeper. He is also an advocate for mental health in partnership with NAMI Oklahoma. Exercise is part of his daily life as an athlete, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Laurendi recognizes its role in overall wellness.
“I feel the best physically but also mentally when I’ve exerted effort. Getting outside and raising my heart rate are what work for me,” said Laurendi. “I hope I just inspire one person through doing these videos to maybe change a habit or take stock in terms of what’s important.”
Games are suspended for now but Laurendi said his inspiration to continue exercising comes from the Energy players with whom he normally shares a locker room.
“My teammates are self-motivated but their support is invaluable. Individuals can’t help pick up on character traits and habits that allow for positivity,” said Laurendi. He recommends connecting with others during this unusual period for public health as part of the bigger picture of personal wellness, including friends and family members.
“Try to be in constant communication with loved ones,” he advises. “It’s important to be open and honest and kind of vulnerable. This concept that athletes are bulletproof individuals is not real. Everybody struggles. Everyone deals with issues on a multitude of different levels, in their head and in their life. Talking through those issues is as honest as you can be as a person. And it’s important to be able to be there for others. You’re vulnerable as well. Be okay with that and work through it and develop helpful coping mechanisms. Things are different right now. It’s your time.”
Laurendi recognized the need to alter workouts and include more lifestyle activities like walking his seven-month-old goldendoodle, Leonard. A stationary bike rounds out his fitness routine.
“Things are different right now and I hope that we realize how much we need one another. Maybe that’s an idealistic way of looking at things but we get so caught up our day-to-day life, our own bubble, we don’t always know our neighbors,” said Laurendi. “This may have been an event that actually shows up how much we need other people in this life. I would implore the great city of Oklahoma City to build a community around soccer because the sport brings a lot of people together from different backgrounds. Whether they’re cheering or they’re playing, that interaction is good for all of us and something to be proud of, together.”