What is Wellness?
The World Health Organization defines it for us: “Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfillment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.”
It relates to everyone across all stages of life in a community, whether young, old, well-off, not-so-well-off, in a family or living alone. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health initiative says, “It may mean having easy and affordable access to health care. It may mean creating neighborhoods where moms can feel comfortable letting their kids walk to school, play outside, and go to a nearby grocery store stocked with fresh and healthy choices. It may mean providing an elder with the helping hands she needs to remain in her home. Or it may mean living in a community where policy-makers, civic leaders, educators, employers, and residents work together to make the health of their entire community a priority. There is no single definition, which means when America ultimately achieves a Culture of Health it will be as multifaceted as the population it serves.” Put simply, wellness shapes every aspect of our lives.
Indicator 1: Teen Birth Rate
Why is this important? Becoming a teenage parent often means trading education for parenthood. The National Center for Public Policy reports that there are three things that one needs to do in order to avoid poverty: complete high school, marry before having children and work full-time. Teen births can prevent all three of these, thus hobbling one’s efforts at realizing their full potential.
- A third of teen girls who have children before age 18 obtain their high school diploma
- Two-thirds of teen mothers who move out of their parents homes live below poverty
- Children of teen mothers tend to score worse on measures of school readiness
How is the region doing? The good news is that the teenage birth rate has been steadily declining over since the 1990s at the regional, state and national level. Between 1995 and 2013, the number of births to teens decreased from 2,373 to just 880. This represents a decline from 14% to 6% over the same time period. The Pew Research Center attributes this decline to teens waiting to have sex, using contraception, and access to more information about pregnancy prevention programs.
Indicator 2: Substance Use Disorder
Why is this important? A 2008 study in Virginia estimates that the costs to public systems of substance use disorder are over $600 million each year. This includes costs incurred for incarceration, adjudication, probation, motor vehicle crashes and law enforcement, and health care.
The Healing Place of Hampton Roads reports:
- Heroin fatalities increased by 94% in Hampton Roads in 2014
- Prescription opioids are a significant cause of injury and death in Virginia accounting for 56% of drug/poison deaths
- Addiction is also one cause of homelessness and is a significant barrier to self-sufficiency
- Oxycodone continues to be the most common prescription opioid contributing to death
How is the region doing? Data from the four Community Services Boards in South Hampton Roads indicate that services for substance use disorder have decreased in some jurisdictions while remaining level or increasing in other jurisdictions. Because individuals may receive services from more than one Community Services Boards, it is difficult to determine an unduplicated regional number of services provided.
However, a 2015 report by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) indicates a continued need for treatment across Health Planning Region 5 (which includes Greater Hampton Roads, the Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula). More than 120,000 people (or 6.5% of the population) in Region 5 reported experiencing alcohol abuse or dependence. Of that total, 110,662 needed treatment but were not receiving it. The same report found that 174,000 people (or 9.4% of the population) in Hampton Roads reported dependence on illicit drugs, and nearly 49,000 people needed treatment but were unable to receive it.
In addition, while the number of homeless individuals has remained fairly level in the past several years, the 2016 point-in-time count of homeless individuals shows an increase of the number of homeless individuals with substance use disorder.