Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Billboard Mental Health

Roadtrip! I am writing from the backseat of a newfangled rental car because, as you may remember from an earlier post, our family car (who we affectionately call “AMY” after her license plate) is a 2002 Toyota Camry with almost 200,000 miles. She only drives local now.  

Photo Credit

On the way to a long-weekend family reunion, billboards galore adorn our route. Their messages run the gamut and are great fodder for today’s musings. My challenge was to link the themes of five billboards along Interstate 76 to mental health. And do it in haiku form no less. Here goes:

1. Billboard #1: “Pennsylvania State has a seat for you!”. Mental ill health is significantly associated with school dropout. The pursuit of learning affords us the opportunity to exercise our minds, engage in the world with curiosity, and develop critical thinking skills. Lifelong learning can also enhance wellbeing and health. Across the globe, an urgent educational priority is to expand training programs in mental health so that we have more professionals trained in evidence-based clinical care. 

Pursue your degree/

Expand your mind, Hone your skills/

Mental health matters/

2. Billboard #2: “Affordable, Single Family Homes for Sale!”. Having a safe place to call home confers profound mental health benefits. Conversely, violence inside the home and in our neighborhoods increases risk for a multitude of mental health and substance use problems. People with serious mental illness are at particular risk for becoming homeless. Housing First programs recognize that having a place to call home is both concretely and figuratively the foundation for mental health.

Safe place to call home/

Foundation for mental health/

Housing First for all/

3. Billboard #3: “Jackpots Ahead!”. Slot machines. Black Jack. Twenty-one. Probability meets Psychology. In the grand scheme of things, the house is guaranteed to win. The seemingly random opportunities for individuals to hit the jackpot play with our generally limited skills at calculating risk and takes advantage of our love of chance and surprise. For many, it is a fun night out. For others, gambling can become seriously debilitating and distressing. At this point, the ICD-11 and DSM-5 recognize gambling disorder within their diagnostic systems for mental disorders. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help.

Give us your money/

Cards, chips, slots, have a good time/

Can’t stop? Time for help./

4. Billboard #4: “For Us All. Join the Marines”. My niece’s husband, who is like a son-in-law to me, is a Marine. He is also the reason we are convening hundreds of miles from our respective homes for the weekend. Deployment orders are sending him halfway around the world and we want to have some time to celebrate together before he and his family ship off. He enlisted over a decade ago, and from boot camp to Afghanistan to other deployments, he models what it means to serve. I wrote about the mental health benefits of service. It’s still true today. Maybe we can’t all be Marines, but we can all serve.

Purpose? Dignity?/

When service is part of life/

Meaning, Wellbeing/

5. Billboard #5: “Ski Our Snow-Covered Slopes Today!”. Okay, so this one needs to come down as spring gives way to summer. Nonetheless, the invitation to engage in physical activity in the beauty of nature is perennial and perennially good for our mental health. We have strong scientific evidence that both exercise and being outdoors in green space can help relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Ski, hike, bike, walk, swim/

Take your pick and go outside/

Feeds the heart and mind/

So many billboards, so little time. We were having so much fun, we actually missed our exit. Amazing where mental health lessons can be found. I dare say billboard mental health gives the license plate game a run for its money.

Picture of Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

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.

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