The Population Health Trust: Here For You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Recently, Skagit County’s Board of Health convened to discuss the health and wellness of our community during these unprecedented times. During the two-hour virtual meeting, the Population Health Trust (Trust) provided detailed information about the current state of our collective health and outlined the services already at play that address areas of concern.

Toward the end of the meeting, the Trust put forth the following question: “What are our most pressing needs right now?

A list of concerns was provided to the Board of Health; a series of issues that were brought to the Trust’s attention over the past several months by community members just like you. Through interviews, surveys and panel discussions, the Trust was able to put together this list, and now, it is time for action.

But you may be wondering, “What is the Population Health Trust, anyway, and what does it do?” Here is some information about the Trust, who the group is comprised of, and what it has achieved thus far.

What is the Trust?

In 2015, the Skagit County Board of Health appointed their first advisory committee to guide Public Health and our community in working together for health improvement. This committee, known as the Population Health Trust Advisory Committee (Trust), is a group of community leaders with a shared commitment to improve the quality of life for all residents of Skagit County.

Who are its members?

Some of our current and past Trust members. New membership photos coming soon!

The Trust is staffed by Public Health but its membership is made up of a group of folks who represent many different sectors of the community. It is a coalition of community leaders who have the knowledge, expertise, and—in many cases—the authority to affect major change. Afterall, to make a big community-wide impact, policies and systems are a powerful place to start. For a list of some current and past Trust members, visit the webpage here.

What does the Trust do?

The Trust conducts a Community Needs Assessment every five years. This is an opportunity for community partners to get together, analyze data and trends, determine areas of strength and need for improvement, and formulate a plan of action. It is also an opportunity for community leaders to ask the public questions like: “What could we do to improve your quality of life here in Skagit County?

From there, the Trust can put forth a list of priorities: the areas that will be worked on over the next several years.

A perfect example of the Trust’s ability to listen to the needs of the community is the Needs Assessment process that took place back in 2015. When they asked the community what the most pressing concern was, the Trust heard a resounding plea for more action around the opioid crisis. The Opioid Workgroup Leadership Team was created to respond to this plea, resulting in a host of new partnerships and policy changes that directly impacted the lives of Skagitonians.

COVID-19 and the Trust

The Trust is now in the midst of a new assessment cycle, and the timing couldn’t be more opportune. Our community—like so many others—has felt the major effects of COVID-19. Our businesses, families, children, and schools have faced incredible, and life-changing, challenges since last spring, and help is greatly needed. The Trust has heard from the community that there is an urgent need for behavioral health supports, like mental health and substance use services, a more robust workforce to address behavioral health needs, and wrap-around services for youth and young adults. The Trust is listening and is ready, willing, and able to respond.

Where to find more information?

If you would like more information about how the Trust works or what is currently being done to address the pandemic in Skagit County, please visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Also, keep your eyes open for Community Forums in the fall! Just like with the first assessment, the Trust will be seeking your feedback on the data, goals and strategies designed to help Skagit come out of the pandemic better and stronger than ever.  


Attention Employers: We Need Your Help, Too!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When people talk about “workplace culture,” they’re talking about what makes a workplace unique, including its values, traditions, behaviors, attitudes, etc. Typically, the employer sets the tone in a workplace, and a positive workplace culture impacts the happiness, and even performance, of its employees. Simply enough, an employer has a major influence over the health and wellbeing of their workforce. And when it comes to COVID-19, employers play a critical role in the prevention of COVID-19.

One of the biggest impacts an employer can have right now in regards to COVID-19 prevention is making sure that their staff have the necessary information about the COVID-19 vaccine. On April 15th, all Washingtonians 16 years and older became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, meaning that many more people will be able to get the vaccine if they so choose. If you are an employer, read on for three tips to help your employees get their vaccine.

1. Have credible information available

You don’t need to be a doctor to put forth credible information. The idea of starting a conversation with staff about COVID-19 or the vaccine may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! When staff has a question or concern, it’s a one-two punch: 1) Offer your personal reasons for practicing COVID safety and getting vaccinated; and 2) Defer to the experts for specifics.

There are many great resources available online for business owners! From FAQs with answers to commonly asked questions, to resource pages with pre-made flyers for the breakroom; sites like WA Department of Health and the CDC have you covered!

2. Provide information about where they can access the vaccine

Please let your employees know that it is easier now than it has ever been to access a COVID-19 vaccine. For those who live locally, there are many vaccine providers in Skagit that consistently have appointments available, including Public Health, hospitals, clinics, and neighborhood pharmacies.

The easiest way to provide information about access is to promote WA DOH’s vaccine locator page. Here, folks can easily find a nearby provider and schedule an appointment online. If staff needs a bit more assistance, they can call the Information Hotline at 1-800-525-0127. Language assistance is available.

To schedule an appointment at the Skagit County Fairgrounds Clinic, people can go to www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline for assistance, (360) 416-1500. Evening and weekend appointments are available, as well as a free child-watching service provided by the Children’s Museum of Skagit County!

3. Allow employees time to get the vaccine

Some people may be less likely to schedule a vaccine appointment because they are worried about taking the time off. Though appointments are now available in Skagit County on evenings and weekends in order to better serve our workforce, people still may be hesitant because of fear of side effects and needing time off work 24-48 hours post-vaccine. Employers can make a big impact here!

Health and safety are big business! Providing the time and opportunity for employees to get vaccinated is an investment in the safety, productivity and health of your workforce. Even still, the idea of providing this time may seem impossible as you may feel strapped as it is. Thankfully, some help is coming.

On April 21, President Biden called on every employer in America to offer full pay to their employees for any time off needed to get vaccinated and for any time it takes to recover from the after-effects of vaccination. A paid leave tax credit will assist in offsetting the cost for employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide full pay for any time their employees need to get a COVID-19 vaccination or recover from that vaccination. For more information about the new tax credit, go to https://bit.ly/2QvtGcN.

For more information

Most likely you will get some questions that you may not know the answer to—or you may have questions yourself! This is to be expected! The Washington Department of Health has created a list of Frequently Asked Questions just for employers on its website.

Below are just a few answers from that FAQ that may be helpful:

How do I get a vaccine provider to come to my business?

Contact Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500) to see if there are mobile clinics, pharmacies, or community vaccinators available in your area to partner with for hosting at the worksite.

You may need to consider the number of eligible employees you have who have not been vaccinated yet. With limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, there may be more demand than supply available. Some vaccine providers may require a certain number of people to justify holding a workplace clinic.

Do fully vaccinated staff still need to wear a mask and avoid close contact with others?

The COVID-19 vaccines work well, but they are not 100 percent effective. Some people may get COVID-19 even if they’ve been vaccinated. Vaccine studies focused mainly on whether the vaccine keeps you from getting COVID-19. We don’t yet know whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent someone from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people. Until we know more, all employees should continue to:

  • Wear masks
  • Stay at least 6 feet (or 2 meters) away from others
  • Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces
  • Wash hands often
  • Keep WA Notify enabled

If able to, should I have employees stagger their vaccinations to avoid work shortages due to vaccine side effects?

It’s a good idea if you can. Most side effects are mild (tiredness, headache, and muscle pain) and last one to two days. However, some people may get a fever and need to miss work. For vaccines that need two doses, side effects are often worse after the second dose. You may want to distribute this visual guide to employees so they can understand what symptoms are a reaction to the vaccine, or actual COVID-19 illness.

Tips and considerations:

  • Schedule the vaccine clinic on a Friday if your company is on a Monday to Friday schedule
  • Encourage employees to get the vaccine before their scheduled days off
  • Stagger vaccination for employees in the same job category or area of a facility
  • Encourage employees who have a fever to stay home from work

Can I require my employees to get vaccinated or to show proof of vaccination?

Washington state does not have any mandates for getting vaccinated against COVID-19, but employers may choose to require it. If you require employees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination from a pharmacy or healthcare provider, you should know that you cannot mandate that the employee provide any further medical information as part of their proof.

You, as an employer, have such a unique opportunity to engage with employees around the issue of COVID-19 safety and vaccination. Please let Public Health know if you need any support in this endeavor, and we will do everything that we can to make this an easy process! THANK YOU!


Public Health Does What?!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

To say that it has been a weird time to work in public health would be an understatement. COVID-19 has completely shifted the day-to-day realities and priorities of health departments around the globe. And while everything has seemingly changed, the foundation of public health—what makes public health so vitally important—has remained the same despite it all.

Staff attending the Latino Health Forum (Oct 2019), pre-COVID.

As I sit here and reflect on my past three years with Skagit County Public Health, I’ve got to tell you, it has been one heck of a ride! I remember during those first few weeks learning (in astonishment!) all the things that public health is responsible for. After all, I had never worked for a government agency before. I knew that people visited their health department to pick up birth and death records or to get information about community resources, but I couldn’t have imagined the depth and breadth of the work that is done here at 700 S 2nd Street in Mount Vernon.

As I walked around the halls and met my new co-workers, I discovered the many divisions that make up our team: child and family health, communicable diseases and epidemiology, behavioral health and housing services, environmental health and food safety, senior services, and community health and assessment.

Of these, emergency preparedness and response was only one small (though critical) part of the puzzle. During a staff training one day, I learned a bit more about this division and was surprised to learn that all public health staff could be activated during times of public health crisis. At the time, I couldn’t fathom what this would look like. Now, a year into Public Health’s COVID-19 response, I can tell you exactly what this response is like!

When COVID-19 first appeared in Washington State last year, County leadership was the first to respond: Unified Command was established and plans were quickly put into place to mitigate risks associated with disease transmission.

Public Health staff working the COVID-19 Testing Site at Skagit Valley College on a foggy spring morning.

Our Public Health staff was activated—slowly at first, then almost entirely by the summer of 2020. On any given day in June or July at Skagit County’s COVID-19 testing site, you might have seen a hand-full of Public Health staff working to register people or help to administer tests—at times even jumping car batteries—whatever they had to do to get the job done.

Back at the office, a whole team of staff were called to conduct case investigation and contact tracing, conducting investigations seven days a week. Big plans for 2020 that had been on our work calendars were adjusted or put on hold to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of our COVID response.

More recently, with our vaccination initiative in full gear, we are in a much better (and sustainable) place. Our Vaccine Site at the Fairgrounds and Vaccine Hotline have been blessed by hundreds of hard-working and dedicated volunteers who show up every day to help get our community vaccinated. Our staff has also grown and changed, with an influx of new temporary and part-time staff that have been hired to conduct case investigations and to provide vaccine services at our clinic.

Case investigators staying cozy in their PJs on Thanksgiving Day.

As the numbers of vaccinated individuals in the state continues to increase, it begs the question: What will life look like after COVID? And even: What will Public Health look like if/when the demands of COVID begin to subside?

This week is National Public Health Week and is the perfect time to highlight the role of Public Health. Although our work has primarily been centered around COVID-19 this year, it is in no way all that we do.

Here is a quick look at some of the other things your local public health department does:

Behavioral Health Services

Public Health works with community organizations and coalitions, school districts, and regional partners to ensure that help is available to those in need, including access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment and recovery services. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/mh.htm.

Child & Family Services

The Child & Family Health Division works with individuals, families, and the community to assure that all Skagit County children have the healthiest possible start in life, with particular emphasis on pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Programs include the Nurse-Family Partnership, ABCD Dental, Parent Cafes, and Skagit Bright Beginnings. For more information: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthFamily/main.htm.

Senior Services

Our Senior Services staff at the office are only the tip of the iceberg; this is a huge team! We have five senior centers in Skagit County and a robust Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition program. While many senior services have been put on hold due to COVID, the nutrition program has been instrumental to our crisis response. For more information: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/SeniorCenters/Home/Main.htm.  

Developmental Disabilities Services

The Developmental Disabilities Program manages a variety of programs related to providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities, while also providing support for individuals and families and hosting community events and trainings to improve community awareness of developmental disabilities and inclusion. https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/DD/main.htm

Housing Services

Skagit County Public Health partners with local cities and nonprofits to provide humanitarian response, emergency shelters, rental assistance and supportive services with the goal of improving access to housing and reducing homelessness. Most recently, Public Health has made emergency funding available to those who have been impacted by COVID-19, and this funding can be used toward rental or utility bill assistance. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HumanServices/HousingMain.htm.

Environmental Health Services

Environmental Health is easily the most diverse division that we have here at Public Health. From drinking water and food safety to the on-site sewage program and hazardous waste, our EH team is always super busy ensuring our residents are safe and healthy. For more: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthEnvironmental/main.htm.

Communicable Disease & Epidemiology

The shining star of 2020!  The Communicable Disease Program works closely with our healthcare provider partners to investigate notifiable conditions reported by health professionals, identify risk factors for disease, and provide education on how to prevent future infections. And we’re not just talking COVID-19! For more info: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/main.htm.

Community Health and Assessment

Lastly, it is Public Health’s responsibility to think BIG: to analyze the data, identify the gaps, and propose new and innovative solutions. Public Health brings together a group of community leaders—called the Population Health Trust (PHT) —to solve Skagit County’s health issues that our community identifies. To learn more about the PHT, go to: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PHTAC.

If you run into a Public Health employee this week, give them a big air-five! And next time you’re wondering what the heck Public Health does, please remember—we’re so much more than COVID!

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s divisions, please visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/main.htm.

Heartful Care

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, Contributing Author 

“Beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally,  
we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.” 

-Dr. Maya Angelou 

As communities across the globe face ongoing challenges of the pandemic and need for vaccinations, we know each of us is affected. Dr. Angelou’s quote, reflects, no matter what our differences, underneath, we all have hearts. Hearts that are vital and keep us moving forward during these unprecedented times. 

Both our physical and emotional hearts need care—especially now, as we are almost a year into this time of drastic change and adjustments. It is important to maintain good heart care, as best we can. Making sure to reach out to our family, friends or professionals, if we experience any physical or emotional concerns or challenges; remembering we are not alone.  

A few months before the pandemic, I participated in a spiritual activism class. One of the exercises was a meditation on our hearts. We were asked to sit quietly and place our hands on our hearts. Breathe in and out at our own pace, and focus in on giving thanks to our hearts. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of thanking my heart for keeping me alive, blood pumping and all the emotions it holds. It was a moving experience and a good place to start for heartful care and appreciation.

Here are some heartful care suggestions: 

  • Hold our hearts and say, “Thank you!” 
  • Be gentle with ourselves. 
  • Remember to take a few focused intentional breaths. 
  • Get outside as much as we can. 
  • Connect with the earth. 
  • Move our bodies: dance, yoga, hiking, biking, whatever makes us feel good. 
  • Notice the beauty. 
  • Reach out, if feeling isolated. 
  • Check in on family, friends or neighbors. 
  • Continue with regular health check-ups. 
  • Eat some dark chocolate (professionals say it’s good for the heart!). 
  • Keep wearing our masks, good for everyone’s health! 
  • Look into someone’s eyes. 
  • Smile from our hearts. 
  • Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated. 
  • Keep it simple! 

Let’s take care of our health in all ways, so we can show up wholeheartedly for our loved ones, friends and community.  

“Heartful of Seeds,” ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

Finding a Hobby as an Adult

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A few weekends ago, I decided that I was going to try my hand at sewing dresses for my two girls. After watching a few YouTube videos and drinking too much coffee, I thought to myself: “Yeah, I can totally do this. I borrowed my step-mom’s sewing machine and set off for our local fabric store.

Once there, I immediately felt overwhelmed. But I kept going! I ended up buying way too much fabric and some overpriced fabric scissors, decided I didn’t need a pattern (yes, really), and went merrily on my way.

I am happy to report that after a bit of trial and error, I actually created some really cute pieces! Though I wouldn’t advise anyone to look too closely at the stitching, I’d consider this new adventure in sewing a grand success.

What I realized is: (1) It feels good to try something new; (2) It also feels good to be challenged; and (3) I needed a new hobby more than I’d realized.

Like many out there, I have come to rely too heavily on a COVID-19 routine of binge watching and social media scrolling during my down time. Even though I don’t have a lot of down time to speak of with two young children, I will waste it all on unproductive—and sometimes mentally draining—habits.

So, let’s talk about the importance of finding hobbies during this time.

Why are hobbies particularly important right now?

De-stress: Research has shown that having a hobby can help you cope with stress and anxiety. Doing something you love can actually improve your mental and physical health, making you more resilient during difficult times.

Take focus off of the negative: When you are busy doing a hobby, you have less time to focus on the negative. For example: having too much down time without focus can lead to doom-scrolling on social media, which can negatively affect your mood.

Give motivation or meaning: Finding something you love and that brings you joy can give you a sense of purpose in life. During times like these, when routines have been uprooted, it is important to redefine what meaning can look like.

Sense of accomplishment/sense of control: COVID-19 has challenged many people’s feelings about what they have control over in life. And this can feel really unsettling. When you may feel like there is nothing you can do right, or nothing you can control, a hobby can be a really helpful thing to put your energy into.

Create connection: Many times, we can find connection to others through our hobbies. While it may not be physical connection right now, having a shared hobby with someone can be a really powerful thing, and can strengthen your relationships.

How do I find a new hobby?

  1. Something you’ve always wanted to do: Start by asking yourself this: “If I won the lottery tomorrow and never needed to work again, what would I do?” There will probably be some clues based on your answer. And even if the answer is “nothing,” try to dig a little deeper.
  2. Look to your childhood: Remember back to when you were a child. What were some things that you loved to do? Did you like dancing, playing the recorder, or building Legos? What about swimming or writing short stories? All of these things can be turned into an adult hobby.
  3. Shop around: If you can’t think of anything right off the bat, try a handful of activities. Keep trying hobbies on for size until one fits! Walk around a craft or outdoor sports store until something piques your interest. Just keep in mind that shopping around can be a costly exercise, so try something out before investing too much money. There is nothing worse than buying a drum set, just to find out that you lack rhythm (true story).
  4. Take a class: Right now is the best time to try something because there are so many virtual options! Cooking lessons, yoga classes, and painting courses can all be found online—and many times, for free! Find some links to classes here
  5. Find something useful: It is always a major bonus when you can find a hobby that serves multiple purposes. In my case, I can save a bit of money by making clothing at home, while also challenging myself and having some fun. If I get good enough, I could even begin gifting my creations to family and friends!
  6. FUN!: This is the most important part; a hobby needs to make you happy. Don’t take it—or yourself—too seriously. Just give something new a try, and try not to overthink it.

How to incorporate a hobby into your schedule

  • Evaluate your use of free time: If you are thinking, “I have no time for a hobby,” then I urge you to reevaluate your down-time. I was guilty of thinking this, too, but then realized that I think nothing of wasting an hour or two per night scrolling through my phone or sitting on the couch. Finding a hobby that you want to do will help to break these habits.
  • Schedule time: You don’t need to make time for your hobby every day, or even every week. But when you are feeling extra stressed or down, make sure to use your hobby as a go-to coping strategy, and find some time for it. Consider it an essential part of your self-care routine.

Helpful Tools

There are some interesting tools online that you can use to find a new hobby. DiscoveraHobby.com is especially helpful, and has activities broken up into categories.

Feeling daring? Take an online quiz to help guide you to the hobby that you should try next. I got Computer Programming though, so maybe take this quiz with a grain of salt!



7 Steps for Combating Seasonal Depression

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have always looked forward to the colder months. For me, shorter days and chilly temperatures mean cozy sweaters, snuggling under blankets, and fuzzy socks. It had never truly occurred to me that seasonal depression was a real thing until I met my husband. He—unlike myself—is genuinely impacted by the winter months, and struggles each year when the weather starts to turn.

And he is not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, affects about five percent of adults in the United States. It is more common among women than men, and has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. Though rare, SAD can also affect children, sometimes causing fussiness, clinginess, and emotional reactivity, or disinterest, sleepiness, and poor memory.

Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, even with too much sleep, and weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings. SAD symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include many symptoms similar to major depression, such as:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Some experts have warned that individuals will be particularly hard-hit this year due to the culminating effects of seasonal depression and COVID-related mental, emotional, physical, and economic challenges.

While it is important to acknowledge that this winter may be tougher than usual, it doesn’t mean that things are hopeless. There are many preventative steps that we can take to combat seasonal depression—and you can start right now!

1. Make a Plan

If you know that you are affected by seasonal depression, now is the time to start planning. And for those who might not typically be impacted but may be struggling this year, some planning might also be in your best interest.

Make a list of warning signs and symptoms—indicators of when your mental health may be declining. Then, make a note of all of your coping strategies—the things that have helped you feel better in the past. This exercise will help you create a game plan for if/when things begin to feel too hard.

2. Think Positively

There are many known health benefits to thinking positively, though it is unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

Thinking positively begins with positive self-talk: the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These thoughts can be either positive or negative. Each day, you can make the conscious decision to speak to yourself with kindness, or not. Practice showing yourself a little grace each day.

3. Make Health a Priority

Set and maintain a daily routine, eat healthy foods, and get regular exercise.

Recent studies have shown that people who eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean red meats, and other healthy foods, showed a significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Getting more sunlight may help too, so try to get outside to exercise when the sun is shining. Being active during the daytime, especially early in the day, may help you have more energy and feel less depressed.

4. Keep Things Light

Light therapy has been a mainstay for the treatment of SAD for decades. It aims to expose people with SAD to a bright light every day to make up for the diminished natural sunshine in the darker months.

If this isn’t an option, just getting outdoors can be the first step toward a healthier mindset, even in the PNW. When walking outside, try keeping an upward gaze instead of looking at the ground, and practice deep breathing. If you’re able, try to get your heart rate up several times a week.

5. Stay Social

Despite the logistical challenges this year, it’s important to maintain connections with family and friends. While you may have to get a bit creative, there are many ways to connect with people this winter, even if it isn’t necessarily face-to-face.

It can be tempting to close yourself off, especially when struggling with depression. In planning for the winter, ask a friend or family member to be your winter-blues buddy, and keep each other accountable.

6. Keep Growing in Yourself

I know, I know … many of us have tried new things since the beginning of COVID-19. But now isn’t the time to get complacent! Try a new hobby, get involved, and throw yourself into something new. Find the thing that will carry you through the darker days, and do it wholeheartedly. And if possible, find something that you can do with a family member or friend.

7. Find Help

If you’ve tried multiple ways to make yourself feel better and aren’t noticing any improvements in your mood—or are noticing that it’s getting worse—it might be time to seek professional help. Getting help is not a sign of weakness; it is proof that you take your mental health seriously.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

The Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.


Red Ribbon Week & Youth Substance Use

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Red Ribbon Week is dedicated to spreading awareness about youth substance use prevention and the mission of keeping all kids drug-free. It takes place every year from October 23 through October 31st, and this year is no exception. Your student’s health teacher or prevention specialist may be touching on some prevention messaging right now, so it could be a prime opportunity to continue this conversation with your child (if you aren’t doing so already). So let’s talk prevention!

Why is it important?

Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can cause the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.

Substance use and COVID-19

Some early research is coming out that shows that youth substance use rates are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing measures. An article written in the Journal for Adolescent Health noted that, of those adolescents surveyed, “the percentage of users decreased [since the beginning of COVID-19]; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased.” Perhaps of more concern is that, while the majority of those using substances were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), “many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” For parents who are actively working to keep their kids COVID-free, this added information may be worrisome.

Risks of use and COVID-19

We do not know yet if the occurrence of COVID-19 is higher for people who use drugs or have substance use disorder than for those who don’t use drugs, however some underlying medical conditions seem to increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For example, vaping may harm lung health, and emerging evidence suggests that exposure to aerosols from e-cigarettes harms the cells of the lung and diminishes the ability to respond to infection. For this reason, it is possible that drug use could make COVID-19 illness more severe, but more evidence is needed.

Can parents really make a difference?

Absolutely! Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. Even though it may not appear to be true at times, deep down they still want you involved. A strong parent/child bond, especially during the teen years, helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing nicotine, alcohol, and drug use.

When and how to talk about substance use?

These conversations should happen frequently, and typically work best when a parent and child are already engaging in some type of activity together. It is important to listen, show empathy, and be understanding. Connecting often, communicating about your expectations and setting boundaries, and even encouraging healthy risk taking are all things that parents can do to set their children up for success.

Parents can begin talking with their children about drug prevention at a surprisingly young age! These early conversations may not sound exactly like “drug prevention;” instead, the focus should be on laying a strong foundation of trust and openness, while also teaching (and demonstrating) healthy habits. For tips on how to talk to your child at any age, visit: https://drugfree.org/article/prevention-tips-for-every-age/.

What should parents be looking out for?

Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging; many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. However, sometimes they can be attributed to underlying issues.  Mental health concerns like depression and anxiety, as well as traumatic events or periods of transition, can create a greater risk for the development of problematic substance use. Children and teens are dealing with a lot of changes right now, making it all the more important that parents be looking out for concerning behavior.

If you have reason to suspect use, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action and have a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like “Have you been drinking, vaping or using drugs?” No parent wants to hear “yes,” but being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.

Where do I go for help?

There is help available if you are concerned that your child may be using substances—or even if you’re struggling with how to begin a conversation! Drugfree.org has one-on-one help available for parents: visit https://drugfree.org/article/get-one-on-one-help/ for ways to connect.

Want to get involved in your community?

Between now and December 15th, our three prevention community coalitions are collecting information from Skagit County adults (18+) about their perceptions regarding local youth substance use. Do you live or work in one of these communities? Consider filing out the survey! Your feedback has direct influence on prevention programming available for youth and families.

Mount Vernon
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKMTVEEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKMTVESP2020

Sedro-Woolley
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKSEWOEN2020
Spanish- https://es.research.net/r/SKSEWOSP2020

Concrete
English- https://www.research.net/r/SKCOEN2020

For more information about prevention in Skagit County, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Health/preventionmain.htm


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org


Know Your Family Health Hazards

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Emergency Management is mostly about risk management. The theory is that if you know what your risks are, you can plan for a better response when an emergency hits and be able to recover more easily. Risk management works alongside prevention, protection and mitigation, which reduce risks before an emergency; all are vital to emergency management. We have a variety of major hazards in Skagit County — flood, volcano, fire, storms, tsunami, and hazardous materials to name a few. Do you know what your personal and family hazards are? Including any health hazards you know of in your family plan is an important component of risk management.

Current events have shown how important it is to be prepared for health hazards. Along with the facemasks and hand sanitizer, what can you do to protect your family’s health during an emergency?

First, know what your family’s health hazards are are. They could include allergies, diabetes, respiratory illness or necessary medications. Any medical condition that requires specific medication or medical equipment or that gets worse from stress can be a health hazard.

Second, include your family’s health hazards in your emergency planning. Know what can trigger the condition or make it worse, what the reactions look like, and what’s needed to make it better. If possible, have back-up medicine or equipment in your evacuation kit. I know it’s not always possible, especially for equipment. At a minimum, include the following in your kit:

  • A list of all medications with dosage requirements and prescription information
  • A list of equipment, including where it came from and any required settings
  • Non-medical emergency provisions
  • A copy of your medical insurance information and doctor contact information with your important documents
  • Some medical conditions can decrease your immune response, so you may want to increase your supplies of facemasks and hand sanitizer

What does that look like in practice? If you have allergies that have an anaphylactic response, keep an epinephrine injection (commonly called an EpiPen) in your kit and be extra cautious of triggers. If it’s a reaction that can be triggered by skin absorption, have gloves in your kit. If you have diabetes, have a list of medications, what kind of insulin and needles you use, the location of your glucose meter, and some appropriate emergency food for when your blood sugar gets low. Let your family know what it feels like when your sugar is low and what they can watch out for.

Preparing for health hazards doesn’t end once the emergency is over — it includes being aware of potential triggers afterwards. Medical equipment may need to be replaced; having a list of where the equipment came from and any special settings needed can speed up replacing it. Cleaning products, mold, and other contaminants can trigger medical conditions, so be alert for medical reactions. Long-term stress can also aggravate some conditions.

Health hazards come in all shapes and sizes. Planning for an emergency should include health hazards to help you respond and recover from the emergency. Knowing what the triggers are, what reactions to look out for, and what’s needed to combat that reaction can help save a family member. It’s always a good idea to take First Aid and CPR training, too!


Back to School: Create a Schedule that Works

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine. 

1. Compartmentalize your day

For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.

The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.

2. Take breaks and eat well

Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.

For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.

3. Get organized

It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.

4. Get active…daily!

This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.

When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!

5. Encourage socialization

Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!

When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.

6. Be flexible!

Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay. 

What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.