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New campaign promotes mental health during COVID


Last updated 12/2/2020 at 10:17am

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Security resident Nicole Weis is helping to administer a new mental health campaign offered online.

With the pandemic producing plenty of stress, anxiety and other mental health issues have increased dramatically. Mental health professionals are creating special efforts and events to help people during this period. One of those new ventures is Let's Talk Grit, an online campaign that centers on the new Greater Resilience Information Toolkit (GRIT), and a Security woman is playing an integral role in it.

GRIT was developed by Dr. Charles Benight, a psychologist who founded the University of Colorado Trauma, Health and Hazards Center in 2002. This year the Center was absorbed into a new organization, The National Institute for Human Resilience (NIHR). Benight, who also directs NIHR, wrote a piece in the first NIHR first newsletter where he described its mission as to "focus on the health and well-being of Veterans, military members, first responders, other trauma survivors, and their family members. It will transform care and change the scientific dialogue from one of illness and disability to one of strength and empowerment."

GRIT, which also also receives support from El Paso County Public Health, NAMI Colorado Springs and AspenPointe, is a natural outcropping of NIHR's mission.

"We must make resiliency a priority in our community, for businesses, educators and individuals," Benight said in a press release promoting the program. "GRIT is a research-based method that trains community members on self-efficacy, managing stress, identifying coping skills and awakening the grit that already lies within us. While GRIT is not meant to replace the expertise of mental health professionals, it is focused on creating a cadre of community members who are able to face adversity and support others in doing the same."

On its website, GRIT is described as a program "to help you tap into your own personal strength and resilience-equipping you with the tools to overcome whatever challenges today (or tomorrow) throws your way."

The term "grit" means many things to many people, so the website provides its working definition: grit is a combination of perseverance, courage and resilience. The GRIT program uses online training tutorials to teach users what these traits mean and look like, how to build them on an individual and communal level, and how to support other people struggling with difficulties created by COVID-19 (thus those traits on). The tutorials take five hours total to complete, but are designed to be watched at the user's own pace.

Nicole Weis, a resident of Security, became involved in GRIT when Benight proposed the idea to NIHR in March 2020. She immediately became interested in helping build GRIT, since it fit naturally with her existing work as a Peer Support Program Manager & Clinician for NIHR.

"I run our peer support programs (and I love training others on stress and resilience) so it felt like a perfect fit for me to help create the program," Weis explained.

Weis currently runs GRIT, doing anything from sending out follow-up email to reviewing surveys and newsletters to tracking the program's various forms of data. She also co-created three additional programs that GRIT provides alongside its "main track" program: GRIT-4ED, GRIT-LEAD, and GRIT-4Health.

Weis is aware there are misconceptions about resiliency, and that the expression "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" isn't necessarily true.

"I think an important aspect of resiliency (and one we discuss in the training) is being able to look back at a stressful or even traumatic situation and ask what got you through that event," Weis said. "Then, see if you can apply those factors to your current stress. We've all been through stress! Many, many of us have experienced trauma. If we can look at that situation now and identify the factors that pushed us through (social support, taking the stress one moment at a time, connecting with resources like professional services or economic assistance), oftentimes we can apply those factors to our current stress as well. Sometimes it's helpful to remind ourselves of what we have already gotten through in the past! Another aspect of resilience is how you view the situation. Is it a challenge or a threat? A roadblock or an obstacle? The way we think about a situation can make a big difference in our ability to work the situation. Our thoughts are so much more powerful than we often give them credit for!"

While virtual tools to help people deal with COVID-related stress are not unusual, Weis notes that GRIT's design gives it some very unique features.

"GRIT is designed for anyone, anywhere," Weis explained. "In addition to providing education on stress, disasters and resilience, the GRIT course also provides concrete steps to reaching out to others for meaningful connection and conversation, key areas of strength to discuss and promote in self and others, and many technology-based resources the GRIT community themselves can use as well as share with others. The course also emphasizes the importance of self-care. Additionally, this training is a call-to-action to connect with others in your community and is structured to work within already-existing natural support networks – your own friends, family, co-workers, and so forth."

The program is already getting some coverage through local government groups and media outlets. Jennifer Schreuder and Ted Skroback of the city of Colorado Springs Communications Department, devoted a Nov. 3 episode of their Behind the Springs podcast to talking with Dr. Benight about the program. People can listen to the podcast at or see a video of the interview on YouTube at

Weis has high hopes that the word will keep getting around and that GRIT will have a powerful impact in many places.

"I truly think the more we reach out and support others around us and promote resilience in ourselves and others, the more resilient and strong we will become as a community," she said. "We've become more isolated as a whole, and that has been compounded by COVID-19. However, research shows us that time and time again social support is a positive factor associated with recovery from stress and trauma. The more we connect and have meaningful and helpful conversations (not just, 'Hey, how are you doing,' but 'Really, how are you doing, how are you feeling, what's bringing you joy lately,') the more resilient we can become for future stress. I hope GRIT helps spread this resilience across the world."

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