July 4th for Mental Health

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A familiar hush has already descended over New York City. The Friday before a holiday often becomes part of the long weekend. As I ran a few errands yesterday, I saw many supermarket carts overflowing with all the fixings for upcoming weekend barbecues and cars heading out of the city with bikes secured on their roofs.

After I hit “send” for this Five on Friday, I will join in the fun and frolicking associated with the July 4th holiday weekend in the United States. Where does mental health come into play?

1.

Let’s Start with Our Founding Fathers.  While John Adam, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and George Washington were busy establishing a new nation, their lives also included a mix of experiences with mental illness – from being the caregiver for a wife with postpartum depression to suffering from depression and anxiety to helping establish the roots of modern-day psychiatry. Regardless of who, when, or where mental health and illness are part of the human condition. You can learn more about our Founding Fathers HERE.

2.

Time to Play.  Healthy child development, including language development, stress management, cognitive flexibility, sense of self, self-esteem and agency, depends on all types of play. As such, it is worrisome that American kids are playing a lot less these days, and it’s likely that the concomitant increase in mental health problems is not just a coincidence.  You can learn more about the mental health benefits of play for children HERE.

3.

Adults Need to Play, Too. We all know that kids need time to play. The data clearly show that we all need to take time to play no matter our age. When adults take the time to play, we are happier and healthier, report greater psychological well-being, and are even more productive at work. You can learn more about how play improves resistance to disease, cognitive functioning, relieves stress, heals emotional wounds, and more HERE.

4.

Getting Outside. By July 4th, the backyard barbeque is no longer home to winter cobwebs. Pools are clean, and beaches are filling up, even if the water is still a bit chilly. Study after study shows that being outside in nature yields enormous health benefits, including mental health benefits. It improves mood, decreases anxiety, and enhances concentration and attention. The Japanese have a practice of shinrin-yoku, which means forest bathing. Being in green space, particularly forested areas, stimulates parasympathetic activity, which has a calming effect in the present and may even make us more resilient to future stressors. You can learn more about how getting outside stimulates our biological, physiologic, and psychologic systems to work together to enhance our mental health HERE.

5.

Time Together.  Although the concept of independence lies at the heart of our July 4th celebration, when it comes to our health, research shows us, time and time again, that ‘interdependence’ – in the form of relationships and social support – is key to our well-being and happiness. The benefits of healthy, supportive relationships are powerfully captured in US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book, Together. You can learn more about how healthy relationships and social connection are good for our mental health HERE.


Wishing you a weekend filled with opportunities to play, be outside, and spend time with friends and family in ways that are good for your mental health. Happy 4th!

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University
[email protected]