At REINS, our work centers around improving quality of life for our participants.
Today, we talk to Tom Blankenheim, our REINS Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning. In this interview, Tom tackles our questions about mental health.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: I am retired. I worked for Green Bay Public Schools for 35 years starting as a special education teacher and finishing my career as the director of the alternative programs for the district.
Q: What is it that you do at REINS?
A: I started out as a member of the Board of Directors and am currently an instructor in the Learning to Lead program.
Q: Why have equine assisted activities and therapies been seen to boost mental health? Is there science behind it?
A: There is research behind partnering people with equines in therapeutic settings. The research shows that growth and positive changes take place with individuals that develop a relationship with an equine. When a person works with an animal the size of a horse it builds self-confidence. Horses are able to accept people where they are at in a non-judgemental way. They are able to help a person reflect on what state of mind they are in at the time.
Q: Unfortunately, not everyone has access to animals of their own, what would you suggest to the individuals who have interest in animal assisted therapies but are unable to keep pets?
A: Most places that deal with animals can always use volunteers. Equine therapy programs like REINS, Inc. are increasing in number throughout the country.
Q: Why do you think people are so hesitant to talk about mental health? How does this compare to how we discuss physical health?
A: It is difficult to see mental illness in a person – it is much easier to see an injury or a physical illness. Seeking help for mental illness can also be seen as a weakness in our society, especially among men.
Q: How would you define poor mental health? What does it look/feel like?
A: A person with mental health issues may struggle to function in society. Mental illness manifests itself in many ways. We hear a lot about depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, severe anxiety. Poor mental health often makes people feel useless and unable to function. We are not always able to control the thoughts we have – our own thought patterns can become very harmful.
Q: How has COVID affected the state of mental health in America?
A: COVID has put new stresses on all of us. Stress can lead to many physical and mental health problems. COVID has also isolated people and has kept us from our support systems – our families and friends.
Q: What would be considered a “common” mental health problem?
A: Depression is a common mental health problem. Depression and anxiety frequently go together. Most mental health problems are on a continuum and can vary from day to day. We are all prone to mental health issues.
Q: How important do you think it is for people to be proactive about their mental health?
A: It is very important to be proactive about your mental health. Mental and physical health go together. Doing things that you enjoy and that give you a feeling of accomplishment build mental health. Being involved in healthy relationships help support mental health.
Q: Do you have any self-care tips for those wishing to work on themselves?
A: Take time each day to reflect on your day and be thankful for all that was positive. Live in the present. Do not waste time worrying about what you have no control over. Accept failures and faults and move on. Take control of your thoughts.
Q: When should someone seek professional help?
A: Just as with physical injuries or illness if you continue to feel bad or keep getting worse – seek help. If you feel like you are in a deep dark hole and can’t get out – seek help. If your friends or family express concerns about your mental health – seek help.
Q: How can we start more conversations about mental health?
A: It is important to speak honestly with friends and family. You can talk about things that you have read or seen on television. Ask if you are not sure what is going on with you.
Q: How can we support others if we notice warning signs?
A: Check in on them. Recommend possible sources of help. Be their friend and be honest with them.
Q: What options do people have as far as affordable mental health care?
A: There are community helplines that one can call for free and get help. Schools have counselors and mental health professionals on staff. Churches often have resources available.
Q: If there was one message about mental health you could give to our readers, what would it be?
A: Do not hide your concerns about your mental health. Talk with others – ask questions. Seek help if you are thinking about injuring yourself. Express your feelings and emotions in healthy ways – do not bottle them up.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Ayuda En Español: (888) 628-9454
Crisis Call Center: (800) 273-8255
YouthLine: (877) 968-8491
National Institute of Mental Health Information Center: (866) 615-6464