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More Than a Fitness Center: The Veteran Wellness Center’s Holistic Approach To Suicide Prevention

Veterans Support & Mental Health Care

Guest Authored by Dr. Jill Palmer, Senior Director of Clinical Operations at Endeavors

Suicide prevention is more than mental health care. Here’s how San Antonio’s new Veteran Wellness Center is providing a more holistic approach.

When it comes to suicide prevention, so many programs, solutions, and approaches focus on one singular thing: improving mental health. 

However, I believe that suicide prevention goes so much deeper, farther, and wider than just mental health. There are so many other aspects that make up the wholeness of someone’s health and overall quality of life. 

I can give someone counseling all day long, but if they struggle to pay both medical and other bills, have gained weight, lost their job, and are not financially secure, then suicide prevention means supporting all of these needs in addition to supporting any behavioral health needs that come with these challenges.

Understanding this was the catalyst for Endeavors’ new Veteran Wellness Center, and it’s why we are focused on expanding the gamut of services for Veterans in the name of suicide prevention. 

More Than A Fitness Center 

The overall desire and vision of the wellness center is to decrease suicide. The way we’re doing that is from a quality of life perspective. We’d like to provide people with the ability to choose wellness from any angle they need to without shame or stigma. 

Wellness comes to us in lots of different forms. It could be learning something new, making a healthy meal, learning how to meditate, exercising, moving more, connecting with others, or receiving mental health support or family counseling. 

This is why the Veteran Wellness Center will offer comprehensive services to support the daily wellness choices of each client. We built this combination of services to help with the overall balance of a person’s wellness rather than just focusing on one aspect of their lives. To do this, we used six pillars of wellness to create our programs: Mind-Body, Connectedness, Spiritual, Environmental, Economic, and Knowledge.  

Pillar #1: Mind-Body

The pillar of mind-body connects physical fitness with medical care, holistic treatments, and mental health care under one principle.  Besides a free gym equipped with the latest gear, we will offer fitness classes, including Tai Chi, Yoga, Zumba, and walking and/or running groups. Holistic care such as acupuncture and massage will be available as options for treatment of various conditions and non-chemical treatments of chronic pain and anxiety. We will provide access to mental health services for any era Veteran and their family members. Primary medical care and dental services will also be provided as a way to round out the mind-body wellness experience.  

Pillar #2: Connectedness

Connectedness is all about providing the basic human function of people being together with a targeted focus to decrease isolation. We’ve really used that as our guiding force when creating our facility. We purposefully built a connectedness area with plenty of seating and light, connected to the lobby and a cafe. We want people to come in and feel like they can have lunch, grab a coffee, sit and work on their laptop, or whatever else they need. We really see it as a community hub. You don’t have to be a part of our client population to come to the wellness center. 

Pillar #3: Spiritual 

Spiritual health is incredibly important as well, no matter what religion or practice you adhere to. Spiritual services will be offered with meditation and mindfulness moment opportunities in the forms of readings and informational offerings that will be provided in the common areas, purposeful focus on multiple forms of spiritual expressions with the display and availability of art, quotes, and readings from diverse sources.  Practices such as Thai Chi, Yoga, and meditative journaling will be taught thus fostering a sense of wellbeing, wholeness, and connectedness in all the wellness center’s offerings is a key component to the wellness principle of spirituality.  

Pillar #4: Environmental  

The environmental principle is founded on the idea that the space you spend your time in should be beautiful. We purposefully built the facility to capture a natural aesthetic so visitors can feel connected to the environment and with what is around us— rocks and trees and the beauty of nature. We utilized wood, stone, an abundance of light, and transparency to allow for the services being offered to be encouraged and from a posture of a positive embrace of a healthy life. We encourage natural beauty to be focused on daily in your own environment.

Pillar #5: Economic 

Economic wellness is a significant factor in the six principles of wellness due to the significant role economic status plays in the client’s social determinants of health and their long-term medical outcomes.  The wellness center will offer direct access to homelessness prevention to eligible Veterans and their families, rapid re-housing, and other financial crises. Financial wellness moments will be offered as either self-directed learning or in-person case management support and learning. Policy and advocacy work will also be offered and supported at the wellness center to encourage global changes to increase positive economic policies that directly impact social determinants of health.  

Pillar #6: Knowledge 

Knowledge is a common thread through everything. This is what enhances, strengthens, and supports overall health. This is why knowledge options will be provided through guest speaker series, psychoeducational classes, access to information via Wi-Fi, and suggested readings. We have a 2,000-square-foot community center where we plan on hosting events related to educating people. 

A Personal Connection 

Suicide prevention is not just mental health care. Suicide prevention is appropriate housing, access to medical care, access to fitness outlets, outlets to connectedness with people, and way more. 

For me, this work is personal. Besides being a veteran myself, I come from a family of Veterans and active duty folks. Over my adult life, I watched my father (who was a Vietnam Veteran) struggle in silence with PTSD for decades. To cope, he would try and find community anywhere he could find it— at the gym, at a coffee shop, etc. There was no way he was going to go to counseling; and to be honest, that wasn’t what he needed. He needed a loving, caring community and access to multiple resources in various spheres of health. 

I truly believe that our siloed approach to care and the stigmatization and shame that is prevalent in our society related to seeking mental health care is problematic.  This shame continues the incorrect idea that mental health is a weakness.  The truth is we all have mental health, we all need support, we all need a well-rounded approach to our emotional life.

I believe this well-rounded approach to suicide prevention is going to save lives.


Note: The Wellness Center’s Updated Timeline 

We will be postponing grand opening ceremonies until the Fall of 2021 due to an abundance of caution related to the pandemic and vaccine rollout. 

About Endeavors

Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit www.endeavors.org

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