SAW Community Health Needs Assessment reveals local impact of mental health illness

SAW Community Health Needs Assessment reveals local impact of mental health illness

Augusta HealthMental health, nutrition, diabetes and access to healthcare are the top concerns for residents of Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro.

The 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) revealed that 78.4 percent are concerned about mental health, 61.3 percent about nutrition and 51 percent about diabetes.

The CHNA is conducted every three years by Augusta Health.

“We had fantastic participation,” said Bruce Lockwood, Senior Vice President of PRC Inc.

With a margin of error of 3.6 percent and responses from 756 residents of Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro to the 100-question survey, Lockwood said this year’s results closely match the actual population.

“The survey sample we captured really represented the population it’s meant to represent,” Lockwood said.

The statistics for mental health illness ‘increased really significantly over time,” according to Lockwood. One in five residents in Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro responded that they have “fair” or “poor” mental health. That’s 21.5 percent in this year’s results, up from 17.7 percent in 2019 and much higher than 8.7 percent in 2016.

According to results, 28.6 percent were diagnosed with a depressive disorder since 2019, and 40.5 percent experienced chronic depression, which Lockwood defined as two or more years of feeling sad most days.

The results related to mental health for the area were above national findings, Lockwood said. Women, young adults and low-income individuals experience the greatest risk for mental health illness.

Trends for suicide in the area do not paint a brighter picture.

“It is also something historically that has tracked significantly above what we see statewide and nationally,” Lockwood said of survey results. The area is well below the national average of providers to patients ratio, which means not enough mental health providers are available. While 22.9 percent in the area are seeking mental health treatment, only 16.8 percent of Americans are seeking treatment.

Of respondents who answered the CNHA, 74.6 percent are overweight in Augusta County, 69.1 percent in Waynesboro and 67.3 percent in Staunton.

“Each of these indicators have increased significantly since 2016,” Lockwood said. The national average is 61 percent and 67.3 percent of Virginians report obesity.

Not to be forgotten, COVID-19 had an impact on this year’s survey as well. The pandemic was credited with 6.6 percent of deaths in the area. Of those who contracted COVID-19, 50 percent in the area died. This average is lower than the American average of 85 percent and 56.3 percent in Virginia.

“These last three years have really been an unprecedented time for our community, the U.S., the world,” Augusta Health CEO and President Mary Mannix said Tuesday afternoon before Lockwood presented the survey results. COVID-19 “has impacted all of our lives.”

Mannix said that Augusta Health began conducting CHNAs before they became a regular requirement under the Affordable Care Act. For Augusta Health, CNHA is “fundamental” to its mission.

After receiving the results, Mannix said Augusta Health will again work with community members and develop a three-year implementation strategy.

“We’re hoping that we will have extensive community collaborations and partnerships,” she said.

According to Lockwood, this year’s survey revealed an improvement since 2016 in transportation barriers, however, other barriers have increased in the area, such as access to healthcare. The survey revealed that 45.8 percent of respondents encountered a barrier when it came to healthcare access.

“That’s higher than we see nationally,” Lockwood said. The national average is 35 percent.

The leading cause of death continues to be heart disease. Eight-eight percent of respondents presented one or more risks or behaviors for cardiovascular disease. The national average is 84.6 percent.

Lockwood said that statistics for violent crime are “relatively low for this community compared to the state.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.