Mental illness is a chronic health condition that people can and do recover from

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and it’s a good time to remember that millions of people in the United States are affected by mental illness each year. Whether we are dealing with our own diagnoses or helping take care of someone else who might be struggling with mental illness, the impacts are social, financial, and physical. It’s important to know that we are not alone and that help is available.

Can you help with some context around the millions of people affected by mental illness? How common is it?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, around 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness every year. That’s about 48 million people. The group also says that 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness, or 11.4 million people. A mental illness is classified as serious when it affects a person’s ability to be successful in their life at home, work, or school. And speaking of school, kids and teens also experience mental illness — 1 in 6 youths ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. So even if you are not counted among those numbers, chances are very high that someone you know, or love, is. Continue reading

You might think you are safe from getting hepatitis A, but are you really?

Let’s take a moment to reflect on your day. How many times did you wash your hands today? Did you wash them before eating? How about after using the bathroom? What about the food you ate today? Did you prepare it yourself, or did someone else prepare it? Did that person wash their hands before preparing your food?

Depending on how you answered these questions you may have put your liver at risk for getting hepatitis A.

Idaho has seen a 950% increase of hepatitis A cases reported this year . . . 950%!  And Idaho is not alone in the increasing hepatitis A cases; 26 other states are also experiencing an outbreak with no signs of slowing down.

So, you might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? Is this really something I need to be worried about?” The answer is yes. Continue reading

A day in the lives of DHW self-reliance specialists for Child Support Services

Throw out your preconceived notions of a customer service representative who takes orders and transfers calls. In today’s world, at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), customer service representatives are problem-solvers and communicators. They are investigators and protectors. They listen to understand, and they speak with smiles guaranteed to comfort confused and anxious callers.

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Self-reliance specialist Ambrosia Felton keeps her thank you notes on her desk to remind her of the people she has helped.

Their titles today are more reflective of their purpose. They are self-reliance specialists, and they are resolute in their goal to help their customers get to self-sufficiency by assisting them in times of need.

Ambrosia Felton and Rachelle Thrower are two of the 96 self-reliance specialists (located in Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello) who create the defining experience for those who call Child Support Services in the department’s Division of Welfare. The callers are mostly moms and dads who are either receiving support or providing support for their children. Sometimes the callers are employers or caseworkers.

Ambrosia and Rachelle are the first point of contact for parents who need help navigating the child support collection system. Child support is based on the idea that both parents are financially responsible for their children, and Child Support Services helps parents either pay or collect child support payments. In 2018, Child Support Services administered 147,518 cases and collected and distributed more than $205.8 million to Idaho families. Continue reading

Vaping is unregulated and unsafe — get the facts

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We are in the midst of a national investigation of vape-associated lung disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments (including those in Idaho), and other clinical and public health partners are investigating a multistate outbreak of lung injury associated with e-cigarette product use. We all have a lot of questions about vaping, and I hope we can answer some of those today, but the bottom line is that vaping is unregulated and it’s not safe.

I hear a lot of people being skeptical of the outbreak and the messaging around whether vaping is safe. Many say they have vaped for years and aren’t sick. Can you explain why that might be?

That is what this public health investigation is trying to learn. We do not yet know the specific cause of the lung disease. The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product or substance that is linked to all the cases. This investigation is how public health officials are gathering as much information as possible about each of the cases so they can figure out what it is about these cases that is different and causing disease.

How does an investigation like this work?

Essentially, when a sick person visits a clinic with symptoms that align with the case definition for this outbreak, the medical professional will notify the state health department and will give officials data and information about the patient. That report triggers a response from an epidemiologist, who will contact the patient and interview them about the products they have used, how often they use them, their health status, and anything else that might be relevant to the investigation. As information is gathered, public health officials can see what is similar in all of these cases and eventually be able to determine a cause. Continue reading

Suicide prevention in Idaho: Everyone has a role to play

Even though completed suicides are statistically rare, Idaho continues to have some of the highest rates in the United States. Death by suicide is the second leading cause of death for Idahoans ages 15-34 and for males up to age 54. That is very concerning, but it’s also important to know that most people who make an attempt don’t want to die, they want the pain to go away. Providing care and hope to someone having suicidal thoughts can help save a life. There are things you can do to help.

What are some of the warning signs that someone might be thinking about suicide?

Warning signs include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or completing suicide
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves by searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Having consistent nightmares
  • Increasing use of drugs or alcohol
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Increased aggression, anger, or irritability
  • Change in sleep habits – either too much sleep or too little
  • Extreme mood swings

Continue reading

Idaho WIC begins transition this week to an electronic benefits system

The Idaho Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program is switching from paper checks to an electronic benefits system, called eWIC, which will distribute benefits onto a card that is used like a debit card.

eWIC will roll out in southern Idaho starting Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, and will expand to the rest of the state in October. eWIC will give families a more convenient and efficient way to shop for healthy, WIC-approved foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, juice, baby formula, and baby foods.

Current WIC participants will be transitioned from checks to an eWIC card during their regular monthly appointments using a phased approach. New participants will be issued an eWIC card at their first visit.

“We are excited to offer eWIC cards to Idaho families. Using the eWIC card in conjunction with the WIC shopper app will streamline the customer experience of purchasing healthy foods,” said Cristi Litzsinger, director of Idaho WIC.

Continue reading

A day in the life of Michael Campbell

Michael works as a psychiatric technician caring for those at Southwest Idaho Treatment Center

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Michael Campbell records medication as he hands it out to the residents of Southwest Idaho Treatment Center early one morning this summer.

When you meet Michael Campbell, your first impression might be of an avid outdoorsman, his skin tanned from hiking in the hot Idaho sun. His jeans and blue T-shirt (with a frog on it) would make you think he is more worried about comfort than fashion. His warm smile and easy-going manner will give you the feeling that he’s living an easy, comfortable life.

His actual daily routine is demanding, exhausting, and sometimes heartbreaking. It would be overwhelming to most of us.

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Chalk drawings decorate the patio of one of the residential units at SWITC.

Michael got his tan by spending many hours in the hot sun drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk with the people he calls his family. The frog on his T-shirt is intentional and helps to draw the attention of residents at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) as he hands out medications. “What’s this on my shirt? You think it’s a frog? You’re a smart guy. I’m so proud of you,” he says to a resident. His smile is because he loves what he does. His easy-going manner is what keeps him a favorite among staff and residents.

Michael has spent close to 40,000 hours or 19 years “on the floor” as he calls it. His job is tough, and it’s not for everyone. But his job as a psychiatric technician, or psych tech, is his passion. He spends his days making sure the current SWITC residents have a home away from home. He wants them to feel protected, loved, and honored. The residents may be autistic or have other developmental disabilities. They may sometimes harm themselves or others. Some are unable to communicate. Some need one-to-one care all day, every day. Michael simply wants to help them live their best life as they continue their journey to self-sufficiency.

The primary responsibility of a psych tech is to implement the person-centered plan for each resident. This plan includes skills training, medication administration, and behavioral training support. At SWITC, there are currently 45 psych tech positions. The psych techs do not have standard shifts, but they do have their own shift usually working 8 to 10 hours. Jamie Newton, SWITC administrator, said they discovered that not having groups of employees come in or leave at the same time lessened anxiety among the residents. Continue reading