LET’S TALK: About Mental Health


columnist-logo_SatsukiIna_FINALIt’s something we often take for granted — a feeling of well-being, a positive outlook for the future, clarity of thought, and so forth. Then something comes your way that knocks you flat, whether it’s a job loss, relationship problems, financial stressors, or someone you love passes away. Depression, confusion or anger may follow. Those responses are normal when a person faces difficult and especially unexpected losses. It’s when you can’t shake these dark feelings and thoughts that can challenge a person’s emotional health. So what is needed to strengthen our capacity to deal with life’s challenges? What can we do on a daily basis to build this kind of resiliency? How do we bend in the wind like the magnificent bamboo?

Just as we strengthen our bodies to be physically fit, we can also train ourselves to be mentally fit. So let’s start with a short assessment of some basic elements of mental health, moving from the “inside” out.

What’s my spin? Do I typically respond to people and situations with a positive or negative outlook?

Am I friends with my feelings? Or am I embarrassed by them, hide, bury or just generally shut them down?

Do I know how to share? Are friends and family kept at arms distance or do I seek, as well as, offer support to those I care about?

What’s my purpose and passion? Am I doing anything meaningful that is a contribution to my community?

Answers to these questions are important elements of psychological wellness. These will be explored in more depth in future articles, but for now I offer up an amazing role model in our Japanese American community, a woman of extraordinary strength and resilience who has been gone for many years now (1998), but whose resilience has inspired so many of us.

Mary Tsukamoto was born in San Francisco (1915) and raised in Florin, a small farming community on the outskirts of Sacramento. She was a mom, an educator and a political activist. She was someone who always brought sunshine into the room with her spritely smile and positive outlook. And yet she could face down any giant of an adversary with her charm and empathy. Loved dearly by friends and family, she was known to send appreciation notes to people in the community that she wanted to encourage. Mary shared her Japanese American history on many platforms determined to educate and prevent a repeat of the social injustice of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. She often referred to the story of the Japanese daruma doll with its rounded bottom, exemplifying irrepressible resilience with it’s “seven times down, eight times up” determination.

It isn’t necessary to be as extraordinary as Mary Tsukamoto to be mentally healthy, but it is important to challenge yourself to develop resilience skills in your every day life. Those who choose a positive spin on life, who can recognize and express their feelings, who reach out to others, and have meaning and purpose are the ones who will better withstand the winds of life.

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Sacramento and Berkeley with specialization in intergenerational trauma. www.satsukiinatherapy.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story”). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.


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