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Let’s Talk About Mental Health: Community solutions to moving beyond the scarcity trap

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“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” — Audre Lorde

By Shannon Steele EBS COLUMNIST

As much as many of us are far away from where we grew up, we are all products of our environments of origin – physical and emotional circumstances that were mostly out of our control. These so-called social determinants can be more important than health care or lifestyle choices in influencing health. And the challenges of “trying to make it” in a resort town hits home regardless of if you felt abundance growing up, but even more-so if you’re arriving with a history of resource scarcity. Many people in a resort town can feel squeezed by the high cost of living, especially during the shoulder seasons. It may be good to know that some of Big Sky’s community-based organizations are here to take the pressure off.   

Sarah Gaither Bivins, operations manager of Big Sky Community Food Bank and Food Resource Center, has been connecting people to essential resources since 2013. The food bank has been agile and responsive to the needs of the Big Sky community. Big Sky leaned heavily on their services during the COVID-19 Pandemic, expanding their team, service hours, and resources. “Our model is simple: anyone can use the food bank. You don’t have to qualify or show any documentation. If you feel like you’re in a food emergency, you can come to us for help. We let people do their own shopping and offer additional help with wraparound services,” said Bivins. The expansion of the resource center is really about extending more security to the Big Sky community. “Most of our customers don’t have any type of savings, and only 44% have health insurance.  On average my customers spend 43% of their income on housing.” Bivins added.

Bivins reinforced that utilizing the food bank is not just for emergency use only. “The food bank is for everyone, and we have access plenty of food. We are operating with an abundance of resources here in Big Sky, and community members shouldn’t feel that they’re taking away from someone else if they utilize our services,” she stated. Further, “people use the food bank when there are fewer hours at work, or they’ve just moved to town before work starts and have had to pay travel expenses, or first and last month’s rent. Other times of the year, people use the food bank when they can’t quite make their paycheck stretch to cover all of their living expenses in Big Sky or when they have had some type of emergency (i.e. torn ACL, flat tire or loss of housing).”

The food bank is shifting their framework to encourage customers to utilize their service BEFORE there is an emergency. You are encouraged to use their resources as a strategy to make your household budget go a little farther, build yourself a little bit of security in ways that you can.

When there’s constant stress and a feeling of insecurity around basic needs, our brains move into a scarcity mindset, deeply impacting our mental health and the way we feel and think. Our brains become hyper-focused on finding the resources we are lacking, creating tunnel vision and pushing us into primal functioning… aka “survival mode”.

The scarcity mindset is part of the human experience, and unfortunately a simple solution does not exist. Policy and systemic change are needed to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met. However, grassroots organizations like Big Sky Community Food Bank are taking ownership of addressing the need and seeking to move our community beyond the scarcity trap.

Until systems and policy changes occur, Bivins believes community ownership of addressing basic needs can expand beyond the food bank. “What you can do to help is extend a little bit of security to our Big Sky neighbors. This is something that we’ve done so well during COVID, and I think is truly the character of Big Sky that we all know and love. If you’re in a position to buy someone a gift card, gas card or a bus pass, do that. If you’re in a position to offer a 6 month lease instead of Airbnb, do that. If you can extend healthcare benefits to some employees, do that. If you can buy lunch for someone, do that. If you can tip the housekeeper, do that.  If you’d like to join us at the food bank, we have volunteer opportunities on the Volunteer Big Sky website.” When communities move beyond the scarcity trap, we may then move from “just surviving” to thriving. 

Shannon Steele is the behavioral health program officer at the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation,
and values a collaborative and community-centered approach to mental/behavioral health and wellness.
She has a background in mind-body wellness and community health, and is also a certified yoga instructor and active volunteer. Community, wellness and the outdoors have always been pillars in Shannon’s life.

Additional Resources:

Connect with Big Sky’s Peer Support Specialist

John Kudrna

John provides 1:1 in-person support and coaching to people who are experiencing mental health challenges, seeking sobriety or are in recovery, or navigating life’s challenges. Whether you need someone to talk to, you’re ready to set goals,  or need to get connected to resources, he is here to help! John focuses on whole-person health and wellness and can meet you where you’re at. 

(406) 409-1093

Wellness in Action

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(406) 993-6803

Big Sky Medical Center

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(406) 995-6995

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(406) 993-2112

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