Suicide, overdose rates among Dare health concerns

By on December 6, 2019

2019 assessment reflects some economic worries

(2019 Community Health Needs Assessment)

Some aspects of life in Dare County get glowing reviews in a survey reported in the county’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, an analysis conducted in counties across the state every three years to determine potential gaps that may require attention and resources.

Indeed, a solid 72% of those who took the survey said Dare County is a good place to raise children; 82% agreed with the statement that it’s a safe place to live; and a majority (57%) believe it offers plenty of help for those in times of need.

But there are some sobering survey findings related to local economic issues. Nearly six in ten, 57% of Dare County residents, disagreed with the statement that there is plenty of economic opportunity in the county, while only 17% agreed. In addition, 75% indicated that it lacked affordable housing options.

The assessment also revealed that 8.2% of Dare County residents live in poverty and 32.4 % of students in county Schools are eligible for the free lunch program. And a top county health official says there may be a connection between this economic unease and the problems with mental health and substance abuse documented in the assessment.

Developed under the umbrella of the Healthy Carolinians of the Outer Banks partnership, data for the health needs assessment was pulled from more than 700 community surveys, local focus groups and other state and federal data sources.

Mental health and substance abuse ranked as top Dare County priorities in the 2019 assessment. Those concerns have been a recurring theme in past health assessments as well, and the county has responded in recent years by creating a number of task forces and initiatives aimed at combating issues such as the opioid crisis and reducing stigmas related to mental health.

The assessment does contain some worrisome numbers related to mental health. Death by suicide in the county increased from a rate of 16.8 per 100,000 in the period from 2010-2014 to a rate of 19.6 from 2013-2017. That significantly exceeds the statewide suicide death rate of 13.3%.

In Dare County, suicide is eighth-leading cause of death. Breaking that down by age groups, suicide ranks as the second-leading cause of death among those between the ages of 20 and 39 and the fourth-leading cause of death among residents between 40 and 64.

On the substance abuse issue, the rate of Dare County drug overdose deaths reported in the assessment was 19.4 deaths per 100,000, higher than both the North Carolina and national rates and falling well short of the Healthy North Carolina 2020 target of 9.9 deaths per 100,000.

The assessment also found that 18.2 % of adults Dare County drink alcohol excessively, compared to 16.7 % statewide. As for the community survey respondents, 32.4 % reported drinking excessively one or more times in the last 30 days.

The data in the assessment also points to a relative scarcity of mental health providers locally.  It shows that there is one mental health provider for every 640 residents in Dare County. That compares with one for every 490 residents statewide.

 

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In an interview with the Voice, Dare County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Communications Specialist Kelly Nettnin addressed the idea of a tie-in between residents’ concerns over economic issues and mental health and substance abuse problems.

“If you think about it, if you don’t make enough money to cover your bill, you are going to be anxious,” Nettnin said. “If you look at what [Dare County residents] are spending on housing costs, what they are spending on rent…they are paying out a whole lot more” than the average state resident.

To that end, the 2019 assessment finds that while the average median household income in Dare County ($54,787), is higher than the median state income by about $6,000, the average rent in Dare County is $1,050 a month, compared with $816 statewide.

In addition, little more than a quarter (29.6%) of Dare County residents own a home, compared with more than half (55%) of residents statewide. The average mortgage locally is $1,652, compared to $1,243 statewide.

 

Working on the problems

In her Voice interview, Nettnin noted that a significant number of survey respondents indicated that they do not know where to get help for substance abuse and mental health disorders, a problem DHHS staff wants to address.

“We really need to push that out into the public,” she said, adding that the department has received a grant to develop websites for the Breaking Through and Saving Lives task forces.

The websites, which are expected to be launched sometime in the new year, will feature a map locating offices of mental health and substance abuse counselors within the county and will include contact information. It will also provide information on crisis intervention services available and feature an online community opportunity where users can connect with others who are experiencing difficulties.

The department also plans on unveiling a series of public service announcements aimed at reducing the stigma and increasing awareness of mental health issues. They will also be designed to educate employers on policies and other initiatives that support those struggling with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

In addition, a community-wide resiliency initiative through the Children & Youth Partnership, as well as mindfulness-based well-being programs within the schools, are also an important piece of the puzzle to improving areas of concern, Nettnin noted. She and DHHS’s Health Education and Outreach Supervisor Rebecca Woods were also recently trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid and plan on sharing that training with other community members and groups.

As far as strides toward improving the local economy, Nettnin acknowledged, “it’s not an easy fix.” But she added that county commissioners are taking economic improvement seriously. And with Dare County being the second largest employer in the county, she commended the commissioners for the recent salary adjustment study.

She also urged residents to complete the upcoming U.S. Census survey as accurately and honestly as possible because it assists agencies in gathering data and increases the potential of federal and state funding in areas of need.


To view the whole report visit https://www.darenc.com/departments/health-human-services-/our-services/hcob#CHA%20&%20SOTCH



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