February 14th is Designated Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day.

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February 14th is Designated Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day.

February 14th is designated Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day. This is an annual campaign to remember and honor anyone born with a heart defect. This campaign also honors all of the families and friends touched by children with heart defects along with the medical professionals caring for and conducting research to treat and prevent children born with heart defects.

1 out of every 100 newborns are affected by Congenital Heart Defects / Disease. CHDs are conditions that are present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and how that baby’s heart works. These conditions can range from a small hole in the heart (considered mild) to missing or poorly formed parts of the heart (severe). Generally, the cause of CHD is not known but if a child has CHD is becomes evident during the first few months after birth during a routine medical checkup. Some babies have very low blood pressure shortly after birth and some babies have breathing difficulties, poor weight gain, or feeding problems.

An article published in Everyday Health noted “pediatricians should consider screening children with CHD and other chronic health illnesses for mental health problems”. This article also stated CHD patients are significantly more likely to have depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than children not diagnosed with CHD. Dr. Lopez reported “that non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and Asian American children were significantly less likely to be diagnosed or treated for anxiety and depression than white children, despite the fact that the prevalence of these conditions are thought to be the same across all races and ethnicities in the general population”. Most children with simple defects survive into adulthood. Their exercise capacity may be limited, but these children grow up to live normal or nearly normal lives. Children who had more complex problems had more developmental delay or other learning difficulties.

January is Designated National Blood Donor Month

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January is Designated National Blood Donor Month

This is to honor voluntary blood donors while encouraging more people to give more blood. According to the American Red Cross, the winter is “one of the most difficult times of the year to collect enough blood products to meet patient needs.” People stop donating blood during the holidays and during the cold and flu season because more people get sick.

Blood is needed every two seconds in the U.S. to help patients battling illness and injury. COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise across the US and blood, platelet and plasma donations are continuing to be tested for COVID-19 antibodies.

For a limited time, the American Red Cross is including sickle cell trait screening on all self-identified African American donors. Compatible blood types can be identified quicker. This helps sickle cell patients and African American donors have additional health insight regarding their health information. But, this testing does not diagnose sickle cell disease.

Everyone can still donate blood as long as you don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, feel well and after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. You will need to know and be able to give the name of your COVID-19 vaccine’s manufacturer ( Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer).

Giving blood can help your mental state by providing an altruistic interaction resulting from doing something good for someone else. Donating blood has shown to have a positive effect of greater happiness and better health. The happiness level is increased through shifting aspirations and empathic emotions. Donating blood reduces stress, enhances emotional well-being, minimizes negative thoughts and feelings and provides a sense of belonging while reducing feelings of social isolation.

December is National National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month

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December is National National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month

December is National 3D Month or National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month, which stemmed from MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and the mission statement expanded to include drug-impaired driving. This particular month was selected due to the spike in traffic-related deaths between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

At the beginning of this year’s holiday shopping, there was a decrease in online purchases and an increase in face-to-face purchases, which reflects that many people are interested in being around others verses than being online. It can also be an educated guess that there is probably an increase in social gatherings with the options of drinking or using drugs since social groups or anything face-to-face was not encouraged last year.

North Carolina is one of the eighteen states that adopted the standard; if any detectable amount of controlled substance is found in a driver’s system, other than legally prescribed medicine, the driver will be charged with drugged driving. Compared to drunk driving, drivers are allowed a small amount of alcohol in their system and can still drive.

Anxiety, depression, PTSD, conduct disorder, anti-social personality disorder, and stress are some factors that may contribute to drunk and drugged driving.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a short-term, solution-oriented approach to help identify negative thoughts/behaviors and replace them with positive thoughts/behaviors. Motivational Interviewing is also a brief-client-centered approach concentrating on improving and strengthening a client’s motivation for change. This specific technique is selected when someone is less motivated or ready for a change in parallel with other therapy modalities.

The engagement of these two common modalities can help someone make better choices to avoid drunk and drugged driving.

The Armed Services YMCA Established Veterans and Military Families Month

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The Armed Services YMCA Established Veterans and Military Families Month

The Armed Services YMCA established Veterans and Military Families Month in 1996 and is recognized annually during November. As we know, veterans and military families make tremendous sacrifices, including separating from their families and adjusting to new communities, countries, and new family living situations.

Fort Bragg covers approximately 500 square miles with 146,000 acres dedicated to training, supporting nearly 54,000 troops and 14,000 civilians who work on post at Fort Bragg. This military installation supports about 260,000 military families, military retirees, contractors, and others.

The ASYMCA at Fort Bragg assists 62,500 active-duty soldiers, 76,486 family members, and 94,939 retired Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines stationed or living in Cumberland and surrounding counties in North Carolina.

The overall goal is to ensure that veterans’ and military families’ daily interactions are constant within our regional community. We hope all families feel supported and celebrated.

Some national services that are highlighted during Veterans and Military Families Month are:

  • Sesame Street for Military Families Free App – This App addresses deployments, homecoming, self-expression, and injuries.
  • A ‘Military Family Month’ downloadable packet from the Armed Services YMCA at www.asymca.org The information typically contains a Military Family Month Poster, a Message from the President and National Executive Director; Military Family Month Program Suggestions; and Guidelines for the annual art and essay contests.

SAMHSA has a Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance (SMVF TA) Center: https://www.samhsa.gov/smvf-ta-center This center serves as a national resource to support states, territories, and local communities in strengthening the capacity to address the behavioral health of military and veteran family needs.

Health Literacy Month is Observed in October

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Health Literacy Month is Observed in October

HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) defines health literacy as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Some factors which can affect health literacy are: understanding how the health care system works; knowledge of medical words; reading, writing, and number skills; ability to communicate with health care providers; ability to find health information, which may require computer skills; physical or mental limitations; and personal factors, such as education, language abilities, age, culture, and income.

A September 28, 2021 article from NC Policy Watch shows a comparison of the number of residents who lack basic literacy skills in different counties in NC and the percentage of residents in that same county who live below the poverty line.

Social determinants of health plays a role with health literacy. Health care access and quality helps people to receive timely, high-quality services, which is important for both physical and behavioral health services. This is really important in rural settings when appointments might not be easily accessed and this could hinder or improve communication depending on the relationship of the provider and the patient.

Another social determinants of health which can affect health literacy is education access and quality. If a child or adolescent has the stress of living in poverty, this can affect their brain development making it harder for them to succeed in school especially in reading and math. Consequently, the child or adolescent is less likely to graduate from high school. If a child or adolescent has access to high-quality educational opportunities, there is a stronger possibility for better health literacy; both physical and behavioral health outcomes.

Health literacy and acknowledging social determinants of health is something that can empower us as a community together.

September is National Cholesterol Education Month

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September is National Cholesterol Education Month

High cholesterol, which causes heart attacks and strokes, is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

High cholesterol comes from what you eat, like food that are high in trans-fat and saturated fats. An example of these foods are full-fat dairy products, poultry, meat and tropical oils like coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Our body makes all the cholesterol that is needed through the liver. Trans-fat and saturated fats causes the liver to make more cholesterol than it normally would. The more excess cholesterol that is created, the more it will build up in the walls of the arteries eventually making the arteries become narrower and blood flow to the heart slows down or becomes blocked.

Other factors that can affect cholesterol levels are: being inactive (regular physical activity may lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise your good cholesterol (HDL), having relatives with high cholesterol, smoking, being older because our cholesterol levels naturally rise as we age, smoking and stress (long term stress raises a person’s blood cholesterol levels generally because when people are stressed they are more likely to eat fatty foods).

Some ways to lower your stress level, which helps with lowering your cholesterol levels are to reduce your stress triggers (which could be practicing time management, setting priorities and pacing yourself). You can also practice relaxation techniques everyday which can vary from deep breathing, mindful mediation, incorporating art and music. Visualization can help you take a journey to a calming, peaceful place or situation. This incorporates using your touch, smell, sound and sight senses.

It is important to remember stress relief strategies takes some experimenting and practice but it is a great way to help manage your cholesterol and overall well-being.