One of the perks of being a teacher or a student is the chance to begin again each year, or each semester. The beginning of school is a time of excitement. New friends and new adventures await. Best of all, we get the chance to make a fresh start, to do better. I remember in elementary school my little sister Jeanne not only started school with a bright new attitude, she invented a whole new persona. Although everyone had always called her Jeanne, her full name was actually Donna Jeanne. That year she began school as Donna and her new name seemed to empower her to tap into her natural talents. She became enormously popular. No one in the family even knew of the transformation that was occurring until calls started coming in for “Donna” and we told the caller they must have reached the wrong number.
Looking ahead to the coming year, school success will not only depend on making improvements on past difficulties. Sometimes we need to find the root of our difficulties and make a turn in a new direction. If we are not disabled by illness, it is easy to overlook the enormous role our general health plays in our overall ability to succeed. To do well we must feel well, physically and mentally. The absence of a diagnosable illness does not necessarily indicate good health. We are learning as a culture to take better charge of our health and become more responsible in pursuing those activities that help us achieve optimal functioning. As with my sister Jeanne, a transformation in our lives can begin with a simple change. There is no time like a new beginning to make a fresh start towards a positive transformation.
We’re making a fresh start with Red Flags as well. As Red Flags has now become its own non-profit, we are taking a hard look at ways we can take a good program and make it better. The original Red Flags focused on the warning signs of an impending mental illness with the goal of intervening early. Increasing awareness of the warning signs of a developing illness is still an important part of what we do, and early invention remains a primary goal. But the revised Red Flags has moved our starting point even further upstream. Before we can recognize and respond to a developing mental illness, we have to appreciate what it means to be mentally healthy. We must actively pursue positive mental health, just like we pursue positive physical health. The Romans had it right “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A healthy mind in a healthy body.) Our physical and mental health work together to make us more alert, more motivated, more curious, and more fun.
As we begin this new school year, let’s be sure we include taking steps to nurture and maintain our mental health. The good news is that many good mental health habits are also good for our physical health like exercise, spending time outside, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep. All of us at Red Flags wish every student and every teacher a refreshingly healthy new school year.