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KPHD: Mental health keeps getting progressively worse

Bainbridge Island Review - 10/31/2023

Recent reports from the Kitsap Public Health District show a continuing trend of negative mental health becoming progressively worse across the county, as well as the state.

Kitsap residents were recently invited to gather information and provide insight on the 2023 Community Health Assessment, a collection of countywide health data points recently made more accessible through a series of KPHD open houses. Covering everything from demographics to environmental health to chronic disease, Kari Hunter with KPHD said it's all about providing the most relevant data possible to further highlight the needs of county residents.

"We're really trying to collect information from people that they think is most important to them," she said. "Mental health has definitely been one of those."

While it does have its own dedicated category, nearly every display in all other aspects of health showed at least some link to the deteriorating mental health of Kitsap residents. Factors such as low income and high percentages of bullying victims were presented directly, while other points like the costs of housing, lack of adequate transportation connections and drug and alcohol abuse provided insight to further understanding of mental health.

Equity program manager Jessica Guidry said housing especially has contributed to the worsening mental state in places like Bremerton, as 52% of county rental residents reported in 2021 that they were spending 30% of their monthly income on housing. The state's data is just below that at 49%.

"When we did the community survey last year, it was probably second only to access to healthcare when we asked what people are most concerned about," she said. "Property tax was a big part of that, as well as the cost of trying to buy a home."

Those costs combined with a large portion of residents earning less than $50,000 a year are believed to be contributing to longer stints of less than good mental health and more depression diagnoses. KPHD reports suggest a higher percentage of adults ages 18-44 are suffering from bad mental health, and data from the 2022 Kitsap Community Resources survey suggests that younger adults needing treatment were unable to get it.

Adults have also reported a number of common barriers to receiving treatment when faced with mental health issues. Data from a 2022 Kitsap Community Resources shows that 44% of adult respondents cited lengthy appointment wait times for counseling, over one in five cited high costs and others lacked the knowledge of where to find counseling services.

"It looks like what people are really concerned about is access to appointments because what people are experiencing is long wait times to get them into a timeslot, especially for children," Guidry said.

Drug usage has additionally been cited not only as a large contributor to the negative mental state of Kitsap residents but a bigger threat to human life with the overdose deaths per 100,000 population nearly tripling between 2018 and 2022.

The ultimate tragedy in mental health cases, suicide, has been just as concerning. 49 residents were determined to be victims of suicide in 2021. 35 of them were under the age of 65, a number that is expected to not only increase but continue to be one of the leading causes of premature death in 2023. Even worse, the KPHD states that of the polled high school seniors in Kitsap, 23% reported having seriously considered attempting suicide and 47% reported having sad or hopeless feelings for two or more weeks.

They're numbers that Hunter said are painful to look at. "It's extremely concerning. When we are looking at these top causes of death, they just have not changed in these past few years. It's concerning that nothing is changing in that for the better," she said.