Alberni Valley News

Alberni Health Report part five: economy a wellness driver

The overall health of the Alberni Valley is key to deterring negative outcomes like addiction and crime, health experts say.

The solution is not only to provide supports to people already struggling with addictions, but to add an early intervention component, to prevent the lifestyle choices that lead many to addictions.

There are structured programs and services to aid those in crisis here. Port Alberni has a homeless shelter, some transitional housing, emergency for women fleeing domestic violence, and a mental health and addictions program through VIHA.

A number of non-profit groups also help marginalized residents, including the Bread of Life Society, which offers meals and access to some medical services.

The KUU-US Crisis Line Society offers a 24-7 link to those in need of emotional support or crisis intervention.

These supports are in place because they are needed and used to their full capacity.

Some overall conclusions in Alberni’s profile highlight the fact certain illnesses and disabilities in adults are simply not conducive to having a steady income over time.

Those with developmental disorders, such as a variety of mental illnesses (some of them genetically inherited) can often function fairly well in society, but not always at a level that is self-supporting.

The health of our residents is also driven by outside influences, ones we may not previously have associated with “health.”

“Economic vitality is clearly a driver,” Vancouver Island Health Authority Central Island medical health officer Paul Hasselback said. “Those communities that, for whatever circumstances, find themselves successful [economically] tend to be healthier. Conversely, where the economy is challenged —and this is applicable for Alberni—we see more health challenges.”

A key factor in success is the distribution of income.

“Countries where there is an equitable distribution of resources tend to have fewer poor outcomes,” Hasselback explained. “We often look to the Scandinavian countries as an example. Equalization has a huge impact on the relative health of individuals.”

He noted the North American Occupy movement last year: the fact that one per cent of the population hold the vast majority of its wealth represents a disparity and inequitable distribution of income.

These socioeconomic challenges tend to contribute to poor health outcomes in some populations, although many other drivers are also in play.

“Communities ... have a duty and responsibility to their neighbours. There is an interrelationship: those that are well off have something to share. Those that are challenged also have something to share,” Hasselback said.

But taking the issue down to what each individual can do to increase the odds of ensuring their own lives are healthy and long, there are some basics: Don’t smoke, limit alcohol intake and avoid illegal drug use, enjoy a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and grains and excludes junk food, be active (both physically and mentally) on a regular basis and don’t spend so much time in front of a computer of television screen if you can possibly help it.

Many people with chronic physical or mental conditions can improve their health and happiness by seeking help to manage their conditions in the best way possible.

What do you think? Give us your comments by e-mail:

Next week: How a healthy community supports its senior population.


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