Septic Tips for National SepticSmart Week

Reading Time: 3 minutes

September 20-24, 2021 is SepticSmart Week—a week during which Skagit County Public Health joins the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Governor Jay Inslee in reminding homeowners and communities about the importance of caring for, and maintaining, their septic systems.

Governor Jay Inslee’s proclamation, declaring SepticSmart Week, underscores the importance of maintaining the approximately 18,000 septic systems in Skagit County. Properly designed, installed, and maintained septic systems can operate for a long time as a mini wastewater treatment plant on your own property! However, poor maintenance and other issues can lead to septic failures, contamination of surface and groundwater, algal blooms in lakes, shellfish closures in marine waters, and other issues.

SepticSmart Week Tips

During SepticSmart Week, the EPA provides homeowners with easy to remember septic maintenance tips and videos. Some tips include:

  • Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should have their system inspected. In Skagit County, gravity systems must be inspected every three years; all other systems inspected annually. Pumping is not the same as an inspection. Tanks should be pumped when necessary, typically when 1/3 full of solid material.
  • Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease, and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield. Utilize MedProject locally to safely dispose of medications by finding a local drop box or requesting a prepaid envelope directly to your door.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. Items like coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day Too much water use at once can overload a system.
  • Shield Your Field: Divert downspouts away from your septic tank and drainfield to avoid extra water. Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

Failure to maintain a septic system can lead to backups and overflows, which can result in costly repairs. The last thing anyone needs right now is an added headache or expense from a sewage back up. Spend some time learning how to properly operate and maintain your septic system for the long run, so its smooth flushing from here on out!

Homeowner Septic Education Classes

Skagit County Environmental Health offers Septics 101 and Septics 201 (Do-It-Yourself Septic Inspection) classes for free to all Skagit County residents. Classes are available online and can be accessed at any time. To access these classes, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/septic101.htm.

The Septic 101 class provides homeowners with an overview of the septic system history, function, operation, and maintenance. It is a 40-minute video followed by a 20-question quiz. The Septic 201 class provides homeowners an overview of the What, Why, & How of safely inspecting your septic system and includes instructional videos.

Note: Not all septic systems are eligible for homeowner inspection so please review our homeowner inspection policy first.

Financial Assistance

We know it’s not easy to think about spending extra money right now. Please know that there is financial assistance available for qualifying individuals.

  • If you need a septic system repair or replacement, Skagit County works with nonprofit lender Craft3 to offer affordable financing with the Clean Water Loan. Learn more and apply at www.Craft3.org/CleanWater
  • If you need assistance with the cost of routine inspections:
    • You may qualify for our low-income assistance program. Please contact our department for information at (360) 416-1500.
    • Submit a rebate application to receive up to $200 back on services.

For more information on septic systems and being SepticSmart, visit www.skagitcounty.net/septicwww.epa.gov/septicsmart, or contact Skagit County Environmental Health at (360) 416-1500.


Suicide Prevention: A Critical Conversation, This Year and Every Year

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This month during National Suicide Prevention Month, we are taking extra time to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and seeking help if and when needed. This year, as we see COVID-19 cases spiking and as many are feeling the affects of months of chronic stress, it is critical that we revisit some important mental health talking points.

If someone you know is struggling emotionally or having a hard time, you can be the difference in getting them the help they need. Below are some tips to consider from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when talking with friends and family about mental health, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Do They Need Your Help?

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

How Can You Help Them?

Note: It can be scary when a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide, and it can be difficult to know how a suicidal crisis feels and how to act. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time for help if someone in your life is struggling.

Contact a Lifeline Center

Never keep it a secret if a friend or family member tells you about a plan to hurt themselves. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) so that you can find out what resources are available to you or encourage your loved one to call.

A few other resources include:

  • Crisis line 24-hour hotline: 800-584-3578 (for Island, Skagit, Snohomish & Whatcom Counties)
  • Veteran Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255 press 1, text 838255, or chat online
  • LGBTQ+ Suicide Hotline (Trevor Project): 866-488-7386 or Text START to 678-678  
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Use The Do’s and Don’ts

Talking with and finding help for someone that may be suicidal can be difficult. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills. Do never put yourself at risk or in harms way. If the situation is unsafe or you feel threatened, call 911.
  • Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Go to https://namiskagit.org/ for local resources.

Use the 5 Action Steps

These evidence-based action steps from bethe1to.com provide a blueprint for reaching and helping someone in crisis.

  1. ASK – Yes, you can ask the question: “Are you thinking about suicide?” By asking it directly, you are communicating that you are open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct, unbiased manner, can open the door for healthier, more effective dialogue about their emotional state and can allow everyone to see what next steps need to be taken.
  2. BE THERE – It may seem that “being there” for people is harder recently. But you can be present in different ways. If you can’t physically be with someone, speak with them on the phone when you can or try sending supportive text messages; whatever you can do to show support for the person at risk. An important aspect of this step is to make sure you follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support the person; do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish. If you are unable to be physically present with someone with thoughts of suicide, talk with them to develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well (again, only others who are willing, able, and appropriate to be there). Listening is again very important during this step – find out what and who they believe will be the most effective sources of help.
  3. KEEP THEM SAFE – First of all, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page. After the “Ask” step, and you’ve determined suicide is indeed being talked about, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would kill themselves? Do they have a detailed plan? What’s the timing for their plan? What sort of access do they have to their planned method?
  4. HELP THEM CONNECT – Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports (like the Lifeline, 800-273-8255) can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis. Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their communities. Explore some of these possible supports with them – are they currently seeing a mental health professional? Have they in the past? Is this an option for them currently? Are there other mental health resources in the community that can effectively help?
  5. FOLLOW UP – After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. The follow-up step is a great time to check in with them to see if there is more you are capable of helping with or if there are things you’ve said you would do and haven’t yet had the chance to get done for the person.

Practice Active Listening

Hearing someone talk is different than actively listening to what that person is saying. Active listening requires concentration and understanding. Improving your listening skills is easy to do with practice and these helpful tips below:

Acknowledge the Speaker

This can be as simple as a head nod or an “Uh huh.” By acknowledging the speaker, you are letting them know that you are listening to what they have to say and reminding yourself to pay attention to what is being said to you.

Respond Verbally

Asking questions or making statements may help clarify what the speaker is saying. It reminds the speaker that you are listening attentively and that you are here to help them and are truly concerned. Be sure to let the speaker finish talking before asking any questions.

Summarize What You Hear

Reflecting on what the listener is saying is also a positive verbal active listening technique. By repeating, paraphrasing, or even summarizing what the speaker has said shows that you are putting in effort to better understand them. Use phrases like; “what I’m hearing is…”or, “sounds like you’re saying….” These tactics can also allow the speaker to hear what they are saying, which may help them find positive reinforcement.

Be Mindful of Body Language

Keeping eye contact, maintaining good posture, and staying focused are key components of active listening and interpersonal communication. Being distracted and unfocused gives the speaker the impression that you aren’t paying attention. When you actively listen to someone, you are letting them know that you care about what they are saying and can indicate that you are concerned for their health and safety.

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It is important to take care of yourself when you are supporting someone through a difficult time, as this may stir up difficult emotions. If it does, please reach out for support yourself. Know that anyone is encouraged to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline to speak with a trained professional. They’re here for you.

This September let’s actively try to reach out to those in our lives. And if you are struggling yourself, consider reaching out for help. There is absolutely no shame in needing help, and you deserve to feel better.


Prepare to Protect – September is National Preparedness Month

Reading Time: 3 minutes

As if the current pandemic wasn’t enough, the wildfires and extreme heat this summer definitely helped to remind us of the importance of preparing for disasters. Now that we’re in September, it is time to celebrate National Preparedness Month (NPM), an awareness campaign which promotes family and community disaster and emergency planning. It’s an opportunity to remind folks that we all must prepare ourselves and our families for when emergencies happen.

The goal of NPM is to increase the overall number of individuals, families, and communities that engage in preparedness actions at home, work, school…wherever! This year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Each week in September, a different aspect of preparedness is highlighted. The weekly highlights this year include:

September 1-4: MAKE A PLAN

What this means…

It may help to ask yourself a few questions as you create your emergency plan and discuss them with the other members of your household. They include:

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  2. What is my shelter plan?
  3. What is my evacuation route?
  4. What is my family/household communication plan?
  5. Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and update my emergency plans due to COVID-19.
  6. Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster. Make sure to update your plan based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations due to the coronavirus.

Once you’ve made your emergency plan, practice it! Try testing your communications plan and meeting at your agreed-upon shelter if you get separated. For guidance on making an emergency plan, go visit Ready.gov here.

September 5-11: BUILD A KIT

What this means…

Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly. To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Note: Since Spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people include additional items in their kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus or other viruses and the flu. Some additional items include face masks, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces.

For more guidance on building an emergency kit, go to Ready.gov here.

September 12-18: LOW-COST, NO-COST PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Limit the impacts that disasters have on you and your family. Know the risk of disasters in your area. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards.  Check your insurance coverage to make sure it is up-to-date. For information on ensuring your property, go here.

September 19-25: TEACH YOUTH ABOUT PREPAREDNESS

What this means…

Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.

Establish a family meeting place that’s familiar and easy to find, and don’t forget to think about specific needs in your family. Your family’s needs change over time, so update your plan regularly. For guidance on emergency plans for families with children, go here.


For more preparedness information, including how to make a disaster or emergency plan and how to make your own emergency kit, go to www.ready.gov.

Skagit County also has local disaster information on our emergency preparedness website. Here, you can register to receive emergency alerts and notifications in your area through the CodeRed Emergency Notification System.  This system is a great way to receive local, timely and critical information when it matters most.


When September Ends: Keeping Up the Conversation

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of effort put into decreasing the stigma around mental health disorders, depression, and anxiety. Celebrities and community leaders have shared their stories, and national and state campaigns have been developed to spread awareness about these causes. You may have been noticing a lot of messaging this past month about mental health and suicide prevention, and that is because September is National Suicide Prevention Month. From posts on social media and radio ads, to webinars and virtual trainings; there have been a lot of great opportunities to discuss the importance of our mental health.

Now, as Suicide Prevention month has officially come to a close, I am wondering about ways that my community can continue to support our collective mental health, especially now when some individuals may need it more than ever. I am thinking about the little things that each of us can do on a daily basis to help out our friends and loved ones—and stay connected—even when far apart.

I experienced a really wonderful example of this type of “small-scale” support the other day when I was visiting my doctor. Though I was there for something unrelated, the nurse began the visit by not only checking my physical vital signs, but my mental and emotional vital signs, as well. Now, this may be nothing new to anyone; clinics have been collecting these sorts of measures for some time. But the nurse extended a beautiful gesture after she completed the list of depression-screening questions: She said, “Thank you for sharing these answers with me.” And she meant it.

Once again, this is no big gesture and could have easily gone unnoticed. Yet, I so appreciated that the nurse took the extra second to recognize the importance of these questions and showed respect for my courage to respond. After all, answering these types of questions with honesty can be hard, especially when you’re not used to being asked about depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in such a matter-of-fact manner. Sometimes you may even surprise yourself with the answers that come from your mouth because, for so many of us, we were trained from a young age to “pull ourselves up by the boot straps” and power forward.

Personally, I am really lucky to have people in my life who reach out on a pretty regular basis and check in with me about my mental health. I find that talking things out with a friend or family member can help diffuse the stress that can build up when I get too lost in my own head.

I try to return the favor and reach out to people in my life, and at times it can feel a bit awkward. I absolutely understand how it can be challenging to broach this subject with a family member, friend—or even an acquaintance. However, it is necessary that we connect with those around us and engage in these potentially challenging conversations, because many times a hurting person will not reach out for help themselves.

So, in honor of the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, I encourage each of our readers to begin a conversation with someone about mental health and wellbeing. It can be as simple as asking a person about what they are doing to cope with social distancing, or even what brings them joy each day. It can be as simple as thanking someone for their time and honesty, just like the nurse did for me.

Whatever it is that you do, it makes a difference in the lives of others. And it may make a difference for you too!

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has resources available for Spanish speakers, as well as resources specific to veterans, and options for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Some things to keep in mind…

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or chat with a professional. For more information, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/.