The Dakota Initiative: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness
By: Sidney Brown, Founder of The Dakota Initiative
20,000 dentists participated in the American Dental Association’s 2021 Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey, which revealed that 16% had anxiety and 13% had depression (American Dental Association, 2022).
Similar mental health trends exist throughout various health professions, especially with rising burnout in our post-COVID pandemic era. To that end, I would like to invite you to participate in a discussion about mental health. My brother Dakota Rodgers took his own life in 2016. I therefore launched The Dakota Initiative as a way to remember my brother during a difficult time in my life. This grassroots mental health initiative started with the intention of bettering the lives of people in South Mississippi, where I am currently pursuing my medical degree. I have even presented to military personnel and pre-medical college students. As the project evolved, I came to understand how beneficial it is to introduce people to tools and abilities that they might not have known about before. The helpful methods listed below are worth looking into.
“Meditation is the best means of elongating life.” -Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Transcendental meditation (TM), started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is a silent meditation technique lasting 20-minutes per day. It involves the repetition of a mantra or sound. TM creates a state of high, internal stability and coherence, resulting in more effective neuroadaptability—the ability of the nervous system to change and learn from experiences (Wallace and Wallace, 2021). To try this technique, sit in a comfortable chair with your back and neck straight. Close your eyes and sit silently for 30 seconds. Begin repeating a word or mantra in your head without any particular rhythm. Allow thoughts to float by and experience pleasant feelings of restful alertness. ™ usually lasts for 20 minutes; the mantra should stop a couple of minutes before the process fully ends. Incorporate TM twice per day.
In a 2013 study on active military members and war veterans with PTSD, one month of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) sessions reduced psychological stress, and over half of the group no longer fit PTSD criteria (Church et al., 2013). A 2023 study showed anxiety reduction for health care professionals utilizing EFT (Blacher, 2023).
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) combines cognitive and somatic elements. To try EFT tapping, first identify an issue or fear you have. Set this issue or fear at a reference level of intensity from zero to ten, with ten being the most difficult. Next, create a phrase that addresses two goals: acknowledge the issue and accept yourself despite it. For example, “even though I have this fear of failure, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Begin tapping the side of your hand while reciting this phrase three times. Then, tap each of the various EFT points seven times: eyebrow, side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, chin, collarbone, and under the arm. Always recite a reminder phrase. An example includes, “the failure I feel is just fear.” Repeat this process daily and occasionally ask yourself mindful questions, like “have you reached zero?” to determine your progress.
“Yoga is the ultimate practice. It simultaneously stimulates our inner light and quiets our overactive minds. It is both energy and rest. Yin and Yang. We feel the burn and find our bliss.” — Elise Joan
Yoga builds new neural connections, improves cognitive skills, and strengthens parts of the brain integral to memory, attention, and awareness. One study showed thicker cerebral cortexes and hippocampi in individuals who practiced yoga regularly. The cerebral cortex processes information, and the hippocampus engages in learning and memory. Normally these structures shrink as one ages, but older yoga practitioners exhibited less shrinkage. Yoga also lowers stress hormones and increases endorphins (Yoga, 2021).
“Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo, and it needs to be faced and dealt with.” –Adam Ant
Mental health is a topic in need of greater care and awareness, and there are many techniques aimed at reducing the impact of mental stressors. TM, EFT, and yoga are just a few of the available techniques for utilization by health professionals.
For more resources, please feel free to navigate to The Dakota Initiative website for blogs, links, and more.