Archive for the ‘Health’ category

Saying yes to more

June 25, 2019

If you’ve been reading Better Hawaii, you may remember that last year, I accepted a new position at my organization. At the time, I was doing many of the tasks already, but I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to actually take responsibility for them. I’m a behind-the-scenes person, and this job meant I would be out in front.

I said “yes” because the company needed me, and also because I found myself thinking of the book “Do Hard Things” by then-teenagers Alex and Brett Harris. At odd times, their words spur me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For anyone who feels like they have to “fake it until you make it,” I want to share some of the changes I chose to make after that first “yes” – and what happens when you start saying “yes” to other things.

Yes to more learning. I’m a planner and a list-maker, so saying yes feels like running in the dark, over uneven ground littered with sharp rocks. To feel more comfortable about the new job, I read books from the library and took free online classes. Most online learning is self-directed, so you decide how much effort you put into them. The extra learning helped me gain confidence. It also kept me busy, so I didn’t have time for second thoughts.

Yes to more invitations. One morning, a woman called and invited me to speak to her group. As if I were listening to another person, I heard myself say “yes.” When I hung up, I was a little horrified. But I relearned a great tip: tell yourself that you’re excited, not nervous. The butterflies and racing heart are exactly the same, but your mindset is completely different. So I told myself (a lot) that I was excited. Another day, I was invited to a fundraising dinner that I would usually not attend, and I had an amazing time meeting people and being part of an inspiring evening.

Yes to more opportunities. My way to open myself to new opportunities, for my organization and myself, was to say a personal mantra a few times a week (or whenever I needed a boost). I chose words that remind me that I want to help my organization become more successful and I want to feel that I am giving back to our community. “I open myself to the world,” I would say with arms arching overhead. “I share myself with the world,” I say with arms circling forward. I can’t claim that my mantra makes good things happen, but I can say that I feel more appreciative when good things happen – when we receive an unexpected contribution, when the office chairs I needed where donated to us, when the right people ask to join us as staff or volunteers.

Yes to more time for myself. It’s easy to say “yes” to too many things, and sometimes I wasn’t as selective in the opportunities I accepted. I found myself overwhelmed and stressed. I realized that I had stopped doing a creative hobby that I really enjoy. So I made time to do it. After an evening at the studio, I felt more relaxed and more cheerful, connecting with friends who share a similar passion.

How do you respond to new opportunities and challenges? When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?


Great friendships at work

May 21, 2019

“Members of the good-to-great teams tended to become and remain friends for life,” Jim Collins wrote in “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” (2001).

He was writing about the importance of finding the right people for your organization, and added this observation the last two paragraphs of the chapter. It’s not even highlighted as a “key point,” but I think it’s an important insight.

Our co-workers don’t need to be our friends, but it helps when we are. We spend so much of the day with our co-workers, and sometimes evenings and weekends too.

Looking back over the years, some of my co-workers became strong friends. We share similar interests and a similar commitment to our jobs. And some of our most personal moments involved sharing a meal.

At one job, four of us played golf together almost every weekend, starting as beginners and improving together. We played nine holes at sunset or made day trips to local courses on Saturdays.

At another job, a co-worker became one of my best friends. We ate together, met on weekends, and I even helped to teach her to swim.

“Friends are wonderful to have,” my then 11-year old son wrote. “Friends are people who can help you and who you can rely on… You do not need to have friends, but it is more fun if you have people who can keep you company.”

Recently, two co-workers and I volunteered for a charity walk. We walked together and then ate lunch under a tree, listening to music.

Collins stated, “If we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect – people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us – then we will almost certainly have a great life.”

Who are your closest friends? Do you have co-workers who are your friends? How easy or hard is it for you to make new friends?

Teen depression and suicide

May 14, 2019

In Hawaii, 11.97% of teens (ages 12-17) had a major depressive episode in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2016-2017. Even more alarming, 16.0% of teens (ages 12-17) reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data, 2017.

Suicidal thoughts don’t have to be literal, but they’re always dangerous.

That’s one of the first things that I learned at a panel discussion about “Teenage Depression and Suicide” at the 2019 Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival.

Moderated by comedian Pashyn Santos, the discussion talked about how teens (and adults) can respond to sadness or depression. “Happiness is not defined by success or achievement,” Santos reminded us.

Psychiatrist Sonia Patel emphasized that “Suicidal thoughts really mean, ‘I want to feel better’ or ‘I need a break.’” We can help teens recognize their feelings by teaching them to be in the moment and slow down.

Clinical psychologist Sid Hermosura said that mindfulness can help us look at our thoughts, not just feel our thoughts. He emphasized the importance of social connection, relationships, and gratitude.

Associate professor Thao Le said that just as we eat healthy foods to feed our bodies, our thoughts are a form of “mental food.” For every negative thought we have, we need to bring up five positive thoughts to balance it!

Interfaith minster Rev. Bodhi Be challenged teens to identify their “core wound,” the hole that they are trying to fill. When we find out what we love, we can fill that hole and “forget about ourselves” by serving others.

Le shared a mindfulness practice that can help us feel compassion and strengthen our relationships with others. Think of a person (or yourself) and wish them well by saying, “May you be happy, peaceful, and free from suffering.”

What are your happiness tips? Who can you reach out to when you feel sad or depressed?

A better work-life balance

May 7, 2019

Working for a growing nonprofit, I struggle with balancing the things I should do, but can’t do within a “normal” workday; and taking work home. Sometimes it means that my work-life balance is more work than home, and that’s okay – but only if it’s an occasional thing. It’s not okay if it becomes the new normal.

Taking work home is easier than ever because technology and social media are 24/7. It has an even greater impact on millennials, because this is the world they grew up in.

So I was really interested to attend a panel discussion about “Millennial Work/Life Balance” at the Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival last weekend.

Moderated by comedian Pashyn Santos, the discussion centered on how panelists “escape” from social media, their favorite “failure” story, and some of the initiatives that companies are doing to create a better work-life balance.

Psychiatrist Sonia Patel shared that she is no longer on social media at all. She stressed the importance of having structure outside of social media, like getting enough sleep and healthy meals. We have to learn to be advocates for ourselves and our time.

Clinical psychologist Jeff Stern suggested that we use social media as a reward after completing a task or achievement, rather than using it as an escape or avoidance. We need to learn to manage our time, or companies will try to manage it for us. He wondered if companies will start requiring employees to leave their phones at the door.

Stern mentioned an intriguing idea: some companies are offering a pre-cation, a vacation before the first day of work as a way to give employees breathing space before starting a new job.

Jade Snow of Jade Snow Media admitted that “I only realized my [social media] addiction when I experienced burnout and reminded us that we need to set healthy boundaries. She said that we need to appreciate being with people in the moment, and then be more intentional about the time we spend on social media. We should practice gratitude and surround ourselves with people who are like-minded.

Snow speculated that perhaps we are not looking for a work-life balance, but a work-life integration. The goal is to incorporate healthy practices into our daily lives.

KHON2 TV personality Mikey Moniz stated that we need to stop comparing ourselves with who we think we should be. “Have a strong group of friends,” he said. “You become who you surround yourself with.” Moniz added that when going out to eat, he and his friends are trying something new: they put their cell phones in the middle of the table, and the first person who touches their phone has to pay the bill.

Is social media a “reward” or an “escape” for you? Do you think about work at home and think about home at work?

Hope, help, and healing to prevent suicide

April 16, 2019

Anyone can be at risk for suicide. We all have sources of strength. And it’s strong to get help.

These messages of hope, help, and healing are what I took away from the Prevent Suicide Hawai‘i Statewide Conference last week, April 11-12, 2019.

Organized by the Prevent Suicide Hawai‘i Taskforce (PSHTF), the Conference was sponsored by organizations such as EMS and Injury Prevention System Branch of the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, the Department of Psychiatry under the John A. Burns School of Medicine, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Hawai‘i Chapter.

I work for a local mental health nonprofit, and I was fortunate to be a resource table volunteer. During the Conference, I spoke with passionate advocates, educators, and service providers. I learned about the resources that are available for people in crisis. And I was inspired by West Oahu and neighbor island youth who are committed to prevent suicide in their schools and communities.

The Conference opened with a keynote by Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Dr. Moutier emphasized that the stigma of mental distress is going down and talk saves lives – for those at risk and for survivors of suicide loss. “Everyone struggles,” she stated. “It’s strong to get help.”

There were five breakout sessions and five different “tracks,” covering Hope (primary prevention), Help (intervention and treatment), Healing (postvention and survivor supports), Special Topics and Populations (Micronesian, Military, Filipino, and LGBTQ populations), and Culture (Hawaii and Pacific Islands).

For me, the most moving point came at the Fight For Each Other (F4EO) break-out session. Speakers for the F4EO Project share how suicide affects the lives of military members, their friends, family, and co-workers. Col. Robert Swanson shared his personal story of healing and recovery. “It always gets better – but only if you stick around,” he asserted.

The most impressive part of the Conference was the Youth Leadership Council. These motivated youth shared some of the results of their training, including identifying sources of strengths – such as family support, positive friends, and healthy activities. Youth facilitator Deborah Goebert, DrPH summed it up when she said, “Go out and inspire each other.”

The Conference closed with an address by Lieutenant Governor Dr. Josh Green, who shared his personal story as a survivor of suicide loss. “It took us years to realize we shouldn’t blame ourselves for missing the signs,” he revealed. Dr. Green concluded with words of encouragement: “We have an incredible capacity to help each other.”

Suicide Prevention Resources:

  • ANYONE in crisis can call the 24-hour National the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Veterans, call 800-273-TALK (8255) and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line or text to 838255.
  • Teens in Hawaii can text ALOHA to 741741or call 832-3100 for 24-hour crisis support.

Healthy in Hawaii

April 2, 2019

How healthy are we in Hawaii?

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” according to the World Health Organization.

America’s Health Rankings follows this definition of health when it presents its annual report, evaluating 35 markers of health that cover behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care and outcomes data.

Their 2018 America’s Health Rankings Annual Report helps counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live. Hawaii ranked #1 for overall health in 2018. This is the 9th time that Hawaii has been ranked #1 since the health rankings were first published in 1990.

Hawaii’s strengths. Our strengths include a low prevalence of obesity and a low prevalence of frequent mental distress.

“Low prevalence” is a relative term – 23.8% of adults are obese (compared to 31.3% nationally) and 9.5% of adults report frequent mental distress (compared to 12.4% nationally). For a state with temperate weather and a wealth of outdoor activities, 23.5% of adults are physically inactive.

Hawaii’s challenges. Our challenges include high prevalence of excessive drinking, which increased 7% from 19.7% to 21.1% of adults (compared to 19.0% nationally); and high prevalence of diabetes, which increased 40% from 7.8% to 10.9% of adults (compared with 10.5% nationally).

These “strengths” and “challenges” are to some extent within our control.

Obesity and diabetes are influenced by genetics and medical history, but can be managed by addressing contributing factors such as diet and physical activity. Mental distress and anxiety are a part of life, but prolonged and serious episodes are treatable and preventable through early intervention and access to care.

Excessive drinking is another matter. “Unlike other health behaviors, higher educational attainment is associated with a greater prevalence of this negative health behavior on average,” the report concludes.

Overall, the good news is that in the past five years, the percentage of uninsured people in Hawaii decreased 53% from 7.8% to 3.7% of the population (compared to 8.7% nationally). And on a related note, we have a relatively low prevalence of health disparity or access to health care based on education – 13.3% of adults (compared to 29.9% nationally).

The most alarming news is that the number of children living in poverty has increased 14.0% from 10.1% to 11.5% in 2017 (compared to 18.4% nationally). Children in poverty have little control over their lives, but they may suffer from chronic stress, unreliable access to food and healthcare, and lack of stable housing.

How healthy are you – physically, mentally, and socially? What changes can you make in your life today to become healthier – and help make Hawaii a little healthier?

Climate change, home, and mental health

March 12, 2019

I’ve been thinking about home recently. The land I grew up on is still there, but the home is gone, replaced by a house that overwhelms the land. Though I didn’t live there anymore, it still makes me feel a sense of loss whenever I’m in the neighborhood.

And how much stronger would that sense of loss be if the land were gone?

The 2018 “Sea Level Rise and Climate Change” Final White Paper, prepared by the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program, is an alarming summary of the effects of climate change on Hawaii’s environment, communities, and overall well-being.

There are environmental impacts, like more frequent heat waves, worsening air and water quality, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, changing ecosystems, and more frequent weather effects.

There are corresponding health impacts, like increased respiratory illness, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney disease. And climate change impacts us as neighborhoods and communities, like our ability to travel within and without the islands and our access to food and freshwater.

Beyond the environment and our physical survival, climate change affects our mental health.

How can we thrive with the threat of displacement, the threat of losing our homes and our connection to the ‘aina? How can we address mental health concerns in our disaster planning and community resilience efforts?

In 2018, 700 homes on Hawaii Island were destroyed during the Kilauea eruption, and over 2,000 people had registered to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to Pacific Business News (7/9/18).

Also in 2018, more than 100 people lost their lives, and over 17,000 homes were destroyed by California wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, reported The Weather Channel (3/11/19).

As small Pacific island nations become inhabitable due to sea level rise, lack of fresh water, or other factors, an increasing number of climate change migrants may come to Hawaii because it is similar to the home they left behind. How can we help them thrive in Hawaii? What can we learn from their experiences with the loss of place and loss of their connection to the past?

I’m feeling a little nostalgic about my childhood home. What are your thoughts about maintaining or regaining mental well-being in the face of losing a home?

How connected do you feel to your home? Do you live in a flood or tsunami zone? Are you prepared for a sudden disaster or a slow rise in sea level?