Mental health and obesity are Idaho’s top health concerns, St. Luke reports

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A recent community health assessment released by St. Luke’s concluded that obesity and mental illness are the two most significant health concerns for Idahoans. The study pulled quantitative and qualitative data from health sources and interviews throughout the state to comprehensively determine community concerns. St. Luke’s will use these results to decide how to prepare and allocate resources in order to address these increasing issues.

“We made an extensive effort to really understand what are the multiple health needs in our communities that are depriving people of their health and the well being they aspire for,” said Lyle Nelson, the administrator for community health at St. Luke’s Health System. 

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), the obesity rate of Idahoan adults has nearly doubled over the past 15 years, following the national trend. Additionally, the 2008 Idaho DHW Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System study determined that obese adults were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

Idaho also has the second-highest rate of suicide in the nation, while also being ranked one of the lowest states in regards to accessibility of mental health services.

Many direct factors, including general nutrition and health, can influence an individual’s mental well-being. However, outside factors like daily stress, personal support systems and human interactions can also have significant effects on an individual’s mental health. 

For college students, bodily health is most commonly negatively impacted by high-processed diets, lack of sleep and drug and alcohol consumption. Additionally, busy schedules, heightened emotional relationships, food insecurity, financial instability and even loneliness or isolation are common stressors that can compound mental illness. 

The Journal of Abnormal Psychology reported a 71% increase in young adults experiencing psychological distress from 2008 to 2017. However, the stigma surrounding mental disorders is still strong. 

“Sometimes I’m scared to tell people,” said Alyza Lovenguth, a junior media arts and English rhetoric double major. “I’m scared to tell my professors I have bipolar because I don’t know how they’re going to react.”

Between mental illnesses, eating disorders, stress, self-harm, addiction, and even identity struggles, it is very normal for students to wrestle with mental wellness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 50% of college students rate their mental health as below average or poor. 

“Depression and anxiety are definitely the top concerns we see among students,” said Amy Roberts, a clinical social worker in the Counseling Center within Boise State Health Services. 

According to Roberts, Boise State Health Services has seen a 40% increase in appointments for mental wellness within the last year. 

Addressing stigma and furthering the public’s education of mental health in its entirety is another problem St. Luke’s is hoping to tackle in the near future.

“One in five of us will experience a mental health issue in our lives,” Nelson said. “We need to make it more acceptable to get past the stigma so that people can get beyond the suffering. Stigma is often what stops people from getting the help they need.”

St. Luke’s community health team hopes to focus on providing comprehensive educational and preventative resources as well as direct services for those struggling with mental health issues.

With St. Luke’s assessment and implementation plan, Gov. Brad Little’s recent creation of the Idaho Behavioral Health Planning Council and the new 211 Idaho CareLine, Idaho has recently seen a positive upturn in public concern and statewide planning to address the issue of mental health.

The St. Luke’s assessment team hopes to work in tandem with other local health agencies, like Saint Alphonsus, Boise State, the Idaho Division of Public Health, the Idaho Commission on Aging and others for community-based outreach and health services in order to provide all-inclusive resources for the public.

“It is necessary that all of us have an avenue to good health,” Nelson said. “It reduces healthcare costs for everyone, reduces crime in our communities and reduces addiction in our communities. We (at St. Luke’s) believe that this is a challenge to improve the health for all people.”

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