Beth Finnerty stresses the value of maintaining your mental health

Read any health magazine or website, and you’ll find plenty of ways to improve your physical well-being, from probiotics to Pilates. But while we hear all the time about how healthy eating and exercise are crucial to our overall health, an important part of our bodies is often left out of the conversation: our minds. And they need just as much attention. Research shows that one in five American adults experiences mental illness in any given year.

As president and CEO of Skyland Trail, a leading mental health treatment center based in Brookhaven, Beth Finnerty leads the nonprofit’s efforts to help those with mental illness recover and reclaim their lives. During its 28 years in service, more than 3,000 people have graduated from Skyland Trail and successfully returned to their families, workplaces and schools. Here, Finnerty talks about the value of focusing as much on our mental well-being as our physical well-being.

What is your main goal at Skyland Trail?

Our mission is to inspire people with mental illness to thrive through a holistic program of evidence-based psychiatric treatment, integrated medical care, research and education. We don’t just treat the mind through our psychiatric care, we also treat the body through our medical care. We have a primary care clinic on-site and programs that promote exercise and healthy eating. Plus, we not only educate our patients, we also educate the families and the community.

What do you wish more people knew about mental health?

We want people to know it’s OK to talk about mental health. It is getting some airplay in our communities—and that’s good. Recently, celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez have talked openly about their mental health struggles. Is this a good thing? I think that it helps make it OK for other folks to open up as well. At Skyland Trail, we’ve seen a huge increase in young adults ages 18 to 25. What we’re seeing in this population is a much greater openness about their mental illness. Because of the conversations that are happening, people are more willing to recognize it, rather than sweep it under the carpet.

Do you believe today’s society causes more stress and anxiety?

Absolutely. With all the things young adults and all of us, really—have to deal with, like Facebook, Snapchat, email, getting our jobs done, the traffic in Atlanta, it’s a much more stressful environment we live in today.

What are some red flags that you’re suffering from more than just everyday stress and strain?

We all feel sad or anxious at times, but if it becomes disabling or disrupts your life, talk to a doctor or therapist. Parents should watch out for signs [in their children] such as sudden changes in appetite, sleep patterns or academic performance; experimenting with drugs or alcohol; or avoiding social contact with others.

What are three things everyone should do to stay mentally healthy?

Most importantly, maintain supportive relationships with friends and family. Second, get enough sleep—eight hours per night. Lastly, take care of your body. Exercising and eating healthily help reduce inflammation, which helps protect against depression and other mental health symptoms.

SKYLAND TRAIL

1961 North Druid Hills Road N.E.
Atlanta 30329
404.315.8333
skylandtrail.org

STORY: Locke Hughes
Photo: Jerry Mucklow