The Pleasanton-based Z-Cares Foundation has gone nationwide recently in its mission to help teens and families cope with anxiety and the stigma of mental health issues, launching its "What Makes Me Happy" campaign across social media earlier this month.
Longtime locals Steve and Mannie Nimmo -- along with their daughter, Samantha -- founded Z-Cares last year to help others afflicted by the same debilitating anxiety disorder as their son Zachary, 14, who died by suicide in late 2018. What started as a small group of individuals organizing local screenings and discussion panels about anxiety and related mental health disorders quickly grew into a national effort reaching 21 states so far, and even New Zealand.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Nimmo family told the Weekly that current sheltering in place has made "What Makes Me Happy" even more urgent.
Because prolonged isolation is harmful for people -- especially those with anxiety or depression -- the Nimmos wanted to develop a campaign to help combat its effects.
"We had concerns about that; we sat and thought, what can we do to get the message out, and what do we want it to be," Steve Nimmo said. Noticing only broadcast news "full of doom and gloom," he and his family decided to "find out what makes people happy."
"That's a big part of mental health is finding a place or connection that brings you joy," Nimmo added.
Participants are challenged to share "What Makes Me Happy" by sharing a video or photo, or posting a comment and using #zcares and #whatmakesmehappy to "spread the happiness." Challenging others to share their own content is also encouraged as part of the campaign.
The ultimate goal is to receive videos from all 50 states "and beyond" -- and keep the happiness going after achieving it.
"The challenge is unique because it's so easy, you just have to post a word or picture of something that makes you happy. I think that helps some people to keep in mind," Samantha Nimmo said.
The Nimmos said that it's been fun watching and listening to what makes people happy during the past several weeks. An interactive map on the Z-Cares website invites users to click on various U.S. locations (plus New Zealand) and see where participants are. The material shared can be anything that sparks joy for the contributor like, for example, a photo of a small black calf resting inside a barn.
"The idea it came from is trying to de-focus all that negativity of the world into something that can help you. Finding a connection is something that's really important for mental health," Mannie Nimmo said. Family, friends, pets and music are the things most "overwhelmingly" shared in the campaign so far, according to Mannie: "Things they can emotionally connect to."
"It's bearing true to the things we've heard from training and events -- for everybody, we really need connection to find happiness," she added.
For those who need more help and information about anxiety while sheltering, Z-Cares has recorded Zoom sessions with Dr. Mark Reinecke from the Child Mind Institute focusing on stress reduction, parental advice and dealing with physical distancing.
One-on-one peer chat videos with Samantha Nimmo, who does peer outreach while pursuing a psychology degree from Whittier College in Southern California, offers an approachable outlet about mental health for teens.
"I know for myself and a lot of my friends, it's been hard since I had to leave college," Samantha said. "What Makes Me Happy" has made it "nice to stop focusing on the negative things that have happened over the last few months."
Steve and Mannie became certified in mental health first aid earlier this year and have been deepening their knowledge about anxiety disorders and the signs during the pandemic.
Mostly though, Steve said, "The signs and symptoms remain the same. You really want to watch that the person isn't over-isolating, that kids who might be isolating to start with aren't in their rooms constantly. Help them find connection through typical coping mechanisms they would use in everyday life -- listening to music, breathing."
"The silver lining that comes behind this is families are finding a moment to bond," he added. "We're forced into a situation where society has slowed down. It's important for others and particularly those suffering from anxiety and depression to find those moments and those ways to connect, and I think we can take advantage of that silver lining."
For more information about Z-Cares and "What Makes Me Happy," visit zcares.org.