|STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK
Christina Cernansky stood in front of a room full of women at the Knob Hill Inn and pointed to her forehead.
Early research shows that kids who spend a lot of time looking down at the screens on their phones may inhibit the development of their precuneus, or the happy center, in the brain, she said.
Two hours of recreational screen time in children is associated with poorer cognitive development. Yet on average kids ages 8 through 11 spend 3.6 hours per day glued to a TV, mobile phone, tablet or computer screen.
Alicia Dawson, Enid Rawlings and Phyllis Bunker Frank were among those attending the Wood River Jewish Community’s Women’s Luncheon.
And only 18 percent are meeting the physical activity recommendations.
“We did a presentation to ninth graders about what anxiety looks like. We showed them how drugs and alcohol give them a quick fix but how going outside being active gives a longer fix,” Cernansky told the women of the Wood River Jewish Community.
“My theory is that social media is teaching us instant gratification. We’re being taught that everything can be fixed in a timely matter, which is quite the opposite of real world challenges.”
Cernansky, the executive director of NAMI-WRV, is constantly looking for ways to improve the resiliency of youth. Some of the valley’s youth have talked about having suicidal thoughts.
Vicki Shapiro called the issue of mental health a topic that needs to be addressed.
“These kids are scared to feel scared,” she said.
Her National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter is trying to address that. NAMI and other community partners hope to show James Redford’s film “Resilience” this coming spring.
And it champions the Bluebirds High School Support Group, which is the first teen support group of its kind in the nation. She’s been asked to help schools in Twin Falls and elsewhere start similar chapters.
“I thought mental illness was Jack Nicholson in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo Nest,’ ” she said.
But it can take the form of things like anorexia, traumatic brain injury, anxiety and bulimia.
“When I was in high school, we hung out at the mall,” she added. “But kids here don’t have that and they miss that. “We talk about our challenges in Bluebirds while decorating cookies, carving pumpkins. We walk dogs at the animal shelter and we ski with Higher Ground.”
The daughter of a Marine fighter pilot, Cernansky was living in Washington, D.C., when she came to Sun Valley to dog sit three years ago.
She attended a church service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and went hiking with a 70-year-old woman who opened her eyes to Sun Valley’s fountain of youth and high-energy active elders.
And she knew she was home.
As she looked for a purpose, she landed on NAMI, which has more than 600 affiliates in 48 states. It was just what the doctor ordered, considering her own experience losing her best friend to suicide.
“Within a couple months after my friend’s death, I found myself thinking suicidal thoughts–something I’d never done before,” she said. “Because my Dad was a Marine I had grown up being taught not to feel. NAMI saved my life.
Forging a path towards mental wellness is not an easy task in the Gem State–Mental Health America recently ranked Idaho as one of the worst states for mental health care access.
But Cernansky noted that the Wood River Valley is blessed with plenty of therapists and a great community. Every school has a support group –even one centered around Dungeons and Dragons. And an earnest group of health professionals and lay people have founded 5B SPA (Suicide Prevention Alliance) to try to stem suicides.
St. Luke’s Center for Community Health offers scholarships for people desiring to visit with a therapist. And NAMI is working to decrease the stigma around people needing help with mental health challenges through such events as the Journey to Wellness Art Show, which will take place March 11 at KIC, and its Swing Fore Recovery Golf Tournament.
“I think students in our public schools are beginning to understand that it’s okay to go to College of Southern Idaho or take a gap year to figure out what they want to do. So that’s relieving some of the academic stress,” she said.
The hour-long “Resilience” film that NAMI plans to show this spring analyzes the biology of stress;
In particular, it looks at Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs. These are things like the divorce of parents and abuse and neglect, which can traumatize children and are believed to be one of the leading causes of such things as heart disease, cancer, substance abuse and depression.
But the film also purports that what is predictable is preventable. And it shows ways physicians and communities are helping the next generation break the cycles of adversity and disease.
Cernansky noted that Kevin Hines, a leading expert on suicide who has spoken in Sun Valley, survived a jump off Golden Gate Bridge. He said the moment he jumped, he regretted it. He also related how he would not have jumped had anyone asked him why he was crying enroute to the bridge.
“Don’t be afraid to ask a friend if they need help,” Cernansky told the women. “We need to let people know it’s okay to not be okay. “
FAMILY-TO-FAMILY CLASS STARTS THIS MONTH
NAMI-Wood River Valley will offer a new session of its Family-to-Family course beginning Jan. 29.
The course involves twelve 2.5-hour sessions using instructional materials, discussions and interactive exercises. Classes are offered from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Hailey through March 7.
The program, designed for those who have a family member dealing with a mental health challenge, was developed in 1991 by psychologist Dr. Joyce Burland. It addresses brain biology, mental health conditions, treatment options, communication strategies and what it’s like to experience a mental illness.
It’s been offered to veterans, as well as civilians.
For information, call Roger Olson at 208-309-0979.