By Oliver Lazenby
At its most recent meeting on February 15, the Blaine-Birch Bay Healthy Youth Coalition outlined how local groups could come together to tackle youth mental health issues.
The coalition, which formed late last year, hopes to bring together people from various “community sectors;” youth, parents, law enforcement, civic and volunteer groups, businesses, healthcare professionals, media, schools, youth-serving organizations, religious and fraternal organizations, government and substance abuse organizations.
The sectors were well represented at the meeting held at the Birch Bay Activity Center, which organizers said drew about 75 attendees (the meeting doubled as the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting).
“It looks like we have 10 sectors here which points out what a healthy and positive force this coalition could be,” said Rod Schofield, who spoke at the meeting and consults for the coalition.
Blaine School District superintendent Ron Spanjer and Bellingham-based life coach for teens Jamie Shannon also spoke at the meeting.
Spanjer shared school district initiatives to provide social and emotional support for students, many of which the district has already taken on since getting results from the statewide 2016 Healthy Youth Survey last May.
Fifty-three percent of Blaine High School seniors who took that survey reported feeling depressed in the previous year and 30 percent reported considering suicide.
The district’s initiatives include an anonymous tip line, increased mental health training for district staff and a push to create more student clubs. The number of students enrolled in clubs doubled at the high school this year.
“So many of these initiatives are about helping kids build positive relationships,” Spanjer said.
Shannon, a teen life coach, spoke about social media use. Teens consume media for an average of nearly nine hours per day, according to a 2015 study by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, and several studies show links between depression and social media use.
Shannon has seen an increase in anxiety, depression and loneliness in her clients since starting her practice in 2010. “I think we’d be hard-pressed to say that didn’t have to do with how much they live behind their phones,” she said.
Shannon has some of her clients do a 30-day social media detox; the result, she said, is an average of two hours less per day than before the detox. She also recommended apps that can limit or track smart phone use, including Freedom and Moment.
Since its last meeting, the Healthy Youth Coalition named nine board members: Iain Buchanan, Laura Marshall, James Danger, Matt Durkee, Joyce Dippold, Brian Gilbert, Harley Ridings and Jesse and Erika Creydt.
The coalition also hosts a weekly teen night every Monday from 5-9 p.m. at the Pizza Factory in Blaine. Teen night features prizes, music, games and free pizza.
The Pizza Factory is matching community donations for pizza. Community members can donate pizzas in person at the Pizza Factory or by calling 360/332-3636.
Photos by Wayne Diaz