Recession weighs heavy on Snohomish Co. residents' health

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. -- A study detailing the health of Snohomish County shows the recent economic recession weighed heavily on young people's mental health, caused an increase substance abuse, and hindered access to basic healthcare.

Now, officials with the Snohomish Health District are asking the community to work together to address some of the county's most concerning health issues.

The Snohomish County Public Health Advisory Council spent a year examining and prioritizing health issues in the county. The results were released in a "report card" this morning suggesting community health was adversely impacted by the 2009/2010 recession.

The Public Health Advisory Council reports mental health hospitalizations increased during these years. One-third of these admissions were for mood disorders, such as depression, and 43 percent were related to alcohol consumption or other substance abuse. Admission rates were highest among residents ages 15 to 24, and nearly 30 percent of Snohomish County students reported being depressed in 2010.

"For youth, it's stressful to think about the future when they're entering an era of unemployment," said Snohomish Health District program manager Carrie McLachlan. "I think that's discouraging"

Suicide increased dramatically after the 2009 economic downturn and was the ninth-leading cause of death in 2010, reports the Health Advisory Council, which is recommending it be one of the county's top health priorities. Rates tended to increase with age, the highest being men over 65 (38 suicides per 100,000 residents).

After more than a decade of decline, firearm deaths in Snohomish County started increasing in 2008 due to suicides that coincided with the economic recession, the report card states. More than three-quarters of firearm deaths in the county between 2008 and 2010 were suicides.

"Every time we lose a young person to (suicide), we're losing a valuable community member," McLachlan said.

Substance abuse also increased in Snohomish County from 2000 to 2010. The Council reports 6 percent of Snohomish County adults were classified as heavy drinkers in 2010, an increase of 51 percent from 2001. And, binge drinking among adults grew from 13 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2010.

The report suggests the recession may have also impacted healthcare access. The council found 15 percent of county residents do not have health insurance and 79 percent have a primary care provider - 5 percent less than the United States Healthy People 2020 goal. The report also states that in 2010 nearly a quarter of Snohomish County adults had not had a routine checkup within two years.

The Public Health Advisory Council will use data from the report card to create community health improvement plans, which it hopes to begin implementing next year.

McLachlan said funding for new programs will be a challenge. But, Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, is optimistic there are resources within the community that could be redirected to address local health issues.

"There is a real opportunity here for this county to pull together and address these leading health issues," Goldbaum said. "This is not about what the government does; it's about what the community does."