When looking at determinants of health, social cohesion is a good snapshot of relationships, networks and alliances that reinforce a level of trust among citizens and decision-makers promoting the idea of inclusion and active participation. It creates a multi-functional support system for the individual and family at the time of need or isolation.
The 2015 County Health Rankings listed Cowlitz County as having the fourth highest rate of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days at 4.1 average days (age-adjusted). Factors which help to combat social isolation include: community events or fairs, connections to schools or sports, or recreational / community education programs.
The last general election in Cowlitz County brought a change in the community demographics, as the voter turnout was better than the state average.
Other successful approaches to reducing isolation and improving neighborhood connectedness have included the work of the Highlands Neighborhood Association and the South Kelso Neighborhood Association.
Drug-Free Communities Grants have supported coalitions in Longview, Kelso, and Castle Rock, but there is no countywide organization. This lack of resources contributes to the County’s inability to reduce excessive drinking by adults. The County Health Rankings identified adults reporting binge or heavy drinking at 19% for Cowlitz County, the fourth highest rate in the state. Drug and alcohol related deaths continue to climb faster than the state average.
Rates for child abuse and neglect and domestic violence have increased in the past two years. Local professionals believe economic insecurity, social and mental health problems, and drug and alcohol abuse have contributed to the rising numbers.
Washington State became the second state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana. This created a problem by making marijuana more readily available. It was reported in the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) for Cowlitz County that 72% of 12th graders perceive that it is easy or very easy to get marijuana. Additionally, 74% of 12th graders also believe there is no risk or low risk from trying marijuana once or twice, and 45% believe there’s no risk or low risk from using marijuana regularly once or twice a week.
If children grow up in a community where the lack of social cohesion can be a contributing factor to adverse childhood experiences, it is the responsibility of the community to support protective factors and reduce risk factors. Opportunities abound for concerned citizens who wish to get involved and help reduce the impact of these negative issues.
- Join a parent/school activity
- Support efforts for social justice and health equity
- Discourage discrimination at all levels
- Support Love INC
- Participate and attend local cultural and community events
- Reach out to neighbors to reduce isolation
- Register to vote and vote
- Offer best practices parent education programs
- Build neighborhood coalitions to address problem solving and safety
- Encourage healthy lifestyles Support Block Watch programs throughout the county
- Ensure community activities are inclusive and accessible
- Celebrate diversity
- Reduce homelessness with expansion of public/private housing
- Fund suicide prevention programs
- Fund parenting skills programs to increase bonding and school readiness
- Ensure adequate funding and accessibility for behavioral health and substance abuse
- Include low-income, ethnically diverse, and neighborhood residents in advisory and policy making groups