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While we continue to respond to COVID-19, we are trying to get back on track with other things that we used to do at Kittitas County Public Health Department (KCPHD).

One of those activities is the health watch article. The Daily Record has been publishing our health watch articles for at least 10 years. Whoever writes the health watch article gets to choose the topic. Choosing a topic seems like a pretty big deal these days. I know people want to hear about COVID and I also know that people don’t want to hear anything about COVID. So, what to do? Look back on the last 10 years is what I did.

Here are the articles from 10 years ago to current: 2010, the Great American Smokeout, 2011 Influenza, 2012 Holiday Food Safety, 2013 Food Safety, 2014 Open Enrollment for Health Insurance, 2015 Kittitas County Water Bank, 2016 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) ad public health, 2017 Water Bank Information and New Construction, 2018 Rural Domestic Water Metering, and 2019 National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness.

I don’t know that anyone wants to hear about any of those topics, either. I would like to point out that is a wide range of topics over the last ten years. A wide range of public health topics is what KCPHD is all about. But maybe now I’m just blathering, because I already know what I’m going to write about. I care deeply about mental health and mental illness. Why?

I’m certainly not alone in wanting to talk about it or seeing it as an issue! Our most recent Community Health Assessment (CHA) shows that people have been and continue to be concerned about these topics in our county. The CHA shows mental illness as the 10th of the top 10 causes for hospitalizations in Kittitas County. It also shows that in the last five years, mental illness moved from third to second leading cause of hospitalization in young adults. The percentage of Kittitas County 10th graders reporting that they have thought about attempting suicide has increased steadily since 2006. The ratio of residents to mental health providers at the time of the assessment was 710 to 1. Mental Illness was the top health concern of Kittitas County residents according to an online survey that was conducted for the CHA. Mental Health and Mental Illness has been a concern in Kittitas County and will continue to be a concern.

What’s happening now? Stress is increasing mental health issues for some. Some people who have never experienced mental health concerns are finding themselves feeing more anxious, sad, scared, or angry. More people are in distress. When I asked what our Emergency Department (ED) is seeing at Kittitas Valley Healthcare (KVH), I found out from KVH that the patients for behavioral health are increasing on average (2 to 2.5) in the ED. What is most concerning, though, is the level of crisis the patients are in when they arrive at the ED.

If you have ever spent any time around me, then you have most likely heard multiple references to things like coping strategies. I talk about behavior regulation cycles. I use traffic light colors to describe someone who is feeling fine (green). Someone who is not feeling so fine (yellow). Someone who is melting down (red). Everyone moves through those colors, and green is the only real place that people can learn. Did you know that? Makes sense, right? If someone is melting down, then they are not in a learning moment. Warning signs that we aren’t in the green zone? We all have those signs too!

Human connection is necessary. Best psychiatric tip of the day is about human connection. To make a human connection you must be in the fine (green) zone. So, check in with yourself. If you aren’t green, you will need to use a coping strategy or two. Feeling green now? Or baseline? Or fine? Or however you want to call it? You can now make a human connection.

In press releases, I often write about asking for help if you are feeling mental health concerns. So, let’s break that down. Talk to a friend. I always encourage people to chat with me if they feel comfortable. Go to someone you feel comfortable with. You can always talk to your doctor. Or, you can also call resource phone lines or crisis lines for help. Talk about it! Don’t be silent about mental health or mental illness.

What else can you do about mental health and mental illness? Take a Mental Health First Aid course. Read about behavioral health. The Washington State Department of Health has some great resources right now. Go to www.doh.wa.gov and search Behavioral Health Resources and Recommendations. Want to read more about the escalation cycle? Visit www.seattlechildrens.org and search Escalation Cycle.

Kasey Knutson is the special programs coordinator at the Kittitas County Public Health Department.

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