Heart in Mind supports self-care for students with disabilities

May 9, 2022 | San Diego Community College District

Welcome back to our “Self to Systems” series, a Mental Health Awareness Month initiative addressing mental health challenges and resources as they relate to folks with disabilities within the SDCCD community. 

As we continued our chat with Lucy Plascencia and Jade Barrett (Mental Health Counselors and co-leaders of the districtwide Heart in Mind program), they shared valuable professional insights on the topic of self-care and self-advocacy.

“Taking care of ourselves is one of the most important aspects of mental health,” said Plascencia, “but we often neglect ourselves and our needs.”

Barrett added, “Being a part of the disability community can create obstacles that people without disabilities do not experience. Because of this, those with disabilities often experience significantly more mental distress.”

This begs the question: How can folks with disabilities who experience mental distress identify and acquire the kind of relief or support they need? 

For starters, the internet makes it easier and more accessible than ever to find abundant mental health resources. From meditation and therapy apps, to social media wellness brands and influencers, to online support communities and chat hotlines, help and education is often just a click away.

Offline, and in the “real world,” connecting with local chapters of organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can help folks tap into established networks and programs within the community that specialize in assisting folks with disabilities.

Although a wealth of tools exist for those experiencing mental health challenges, it must be acknowledged that for folks belonging to one or more marginalized groups, many popular self-care strategies are just as inaccessible as the conditions which necessitate them. 

For example:

Eating nutritious “brain-healthy” foods can be difficult for someone living in a food desert.
Establishing a healthy sleep routine is unlikely for someone experiencing chronic housing instability.
Seeking professional help may be discouraging for someone who has experienced racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc.

The list, sadly, goes on.

Furthermore, as the “wellness industry” expands ever-so-aggressively into the consumer marketplace, it is much harder for individuals – especially those with disabilities and mental health concerns – to navigate the degree to which business owners and industry experts value people over profits.

This is why it’s so crucial for institutions who tout the benefits of self-care to mindfully create initiatives that don’t further exclude, exploit, or harm those in crisis, but rather facilitate, encourage, and support folks in safely identifying and stating their needs.

Heart in Mind aims to create such an infrastructure within the SDCCD community through “Heart Chats,” a weekly virtual support group available to all students with disabilities who attend City, Mesa, Miramar, or the College of Continuing Education.

Plascencia noted the program’s emphasis on self-advocacy, which she described as a “powerful tool” for practicing self-care.

She elaborated, “For people with disabilities, self-advocacy can help folks feel empowered to make their own decisions, focus on their right to self-determination, and express themselves. In Heart in Mind, we empower our students by sharing knowledge, holding space for their stories and lived experiences, and seeing them as more than just a number.”

It is within communities such as Heart in Mind where we discover that adequate self-care actually takes a village. Join us next week as we explore how the personal relationships within those villages can have a bolstering or bulldozing effect on the mental health of folks with disabilities. We’ll also share how HeartChats offers its participants opportunities to practice healthy communication techniques like boundary-setting in order to promote healthy relationships and overall mental wellness.

Until then, take care, and please visit our Heart In Mind page for more information on how to participate in our program! 

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