Commentary #82: “How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs”

The Atlantic

Image Credit: The Atlantic

I saw this article on Facebook recently. Thanks to Brittany A. for sharing it.

Here’s the link to The Atlantic’s article, published January 19, 2017:


What were you doing in 1997?

According to a local psychologist, Gudberg Jónsson, back then most of Iceland’s teens were drinking or drunk. All the time. It felt unsafe.

Fast-forward 20 years. There aren’t teens wandering the park, nearly passed out drunk. There aren’t many wandering teens at all.

Why?

They’re involved in after-school classes, art club, dance, music, or with their families.


Iceland boasts incredibly low percentages of teens drinking, using cannabis, or smoking cigarettes.

Here are the numbers. This was a survey of 15-year-old and 16-year-olds, reporting these activities for the previous month.

Drunk, 1998: 42 percent
Drunk, 2016: 5 percent

Ever used cannabis, 1998: 17 percent
Ever used cannabis, 2016: 7 percent

Smoked cigarettes every day, 1998: 23 percent
Smoked cigarettes every day, 2016: 3 percent

It’s radical, and exciting. But, there’s a method behind it. And if adopted by other countries, it could have a revolutionary change. However, it’s a big if.


In 1992, Project Self-Discovery was formed, offering teenagers “natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime.”

Instead of a treatment-based approach or program, the idea was to allow the kids to learn anything they wanted, including art, music, dance, martial arts. By having the kids learn a variety of things and skills, their brain chemistry was altered, and give them what they needed to cope better with life. Other ways to combat depression, anxiety, numb feelings, etc. Life-skills training was also incorporated.

Research and studies in the early 1990s showed a series of factors that played into Icelandic teens not getting involved with alcohol and drugs: Participating in organized activities three to four times per week, especially sports; total time spent with parents during the week; feeling cared about at school; and not being outdoors in the late evenings.

Youth in Iceland began gradually, before being introduced nationally. Correspondingly, laws were changed. You had to be at least 18 to buy tobacco, and 20 to buy alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol advertising was banned. In addition, another law, still in effect today, prohibits children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 p.m. in winter and midnight in summer.

Another key provision was involving schools and parents. State funding was increased for sports, dance, art, music, and other clubs. Low-income families received help or assistance to take part in these extracurricular activities.

“Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down—and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country.”

Youth in Europe started in 2006. The questionnaires – Sent out to many European countries, South Korea, Nairobi, and Guinea-Bissau – shows “the same protective and risk factors identified in Iceland apply everywhere.”

However, no other country has made changes on the scale seen in Iceland. Sweden has called the laws to keep children indoors in the evenings “the child curfew.”

There are cities that have reported successes, being a part of Youth in Europe. Teen suicide rates are dropping in Bucharest, Romania. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of children committing crimes dropped by a third in another city.

“O’Toole fully endorses the Icelandic focus on parents, school and the community all coming together to help support kids, and on parents or carers being engaged in young people’s lives. Improving support for kids could help in so many ways, he stresses. Even when it comes just to alcohol and smoking, there is plenty of data to show that the older a child is when they have their first drink or cigarette, the healthier they will be over the course of their life.”

Would something like this work in the U.S.?

Not a generic model, nothing exactly like Iceland, but something specifically tailored to individual cities, maybe even individual communities. By working with communities to identify the biggest issues and the biggest needs, maybe adopting facets of the Iceland program may help teenagers, and others, in the U.S.


My two cents: While I do drink alcohol now, I’ve never smoked. I was never tempted by alcohol as a teenager. Not at home with my parents, anyway.

I was involved with music and sports from a very young age – Piano, gymnastics, soccer, then the viola, and softball. My church was another huge part of my life. If I wasn’t in school, at music lessons, or at sports practice, I was likely at church.

Also, I know my parents played a huge role in my life. Being an only child, I know I’m a bit biased. But, we had dinner at the table almost every night. We didn’t eat out a lot. The Internet was new, and no one had a smartphone. We had a computer, but there were strict limits, and more educational games than Web surfing. They were fully present in my life. I may have been sheltered and protected, but it gave me so many benefits.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

 

 

 

Commentary #81: “How One Woman Is Teaching Homeless & Foster Care Children To Dream”

Precious Dreams Foundation

Image Credit: Sam Dahman

A dear friend shared this article on Facebook on November 30th, and I felt compelled to write about it.


Who knew that decorating an ordinary, simple pillowcase could make such an impact?

Nicole Russell, together with volunteers, provides comfort items that help children in transition to self-comfort.

What makes you happy?

What images can help you dream?

Things that many of us take for granted – Warm pajamas, stuffed animals, receiving blankets, books, and journals – This foundation helps provide it!

This is awesome!


If you’re interested in learning more, please see the resources below:


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #80: “You have two ages, chronological and biological. Here’s why it matters”

Aging Quote

Image Credit: BrainyQuote

This article on CNN.com, posted on November 30th, immediately caught my eye.


Your chronological age is fairly self-explanatory – It’s based on your birthday.

Your biological age is a bit more complicated – It’s called someone’s phenotypic age.

Phenotypic: Relating to the observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

Remember biology class?

Long story short: Your biological age determines health and lifespan.

Morgan Levine, a professor and researcher at Yale Medical School, worked with her team to identify nine biomarkers in a simple blood test. Some of these biomarkers include blood sugar, kidney and liver measures, and immune and inflammatory measures.

The bottom line: People who have a lower biological age than their chronological age have a lower mortality risk.

What’s interesting about Levine and her team’s research is that your biological age is not permanent. It can be adjusted. Meaning, changing things like lifestyle, diet, exercise, and sleep habits can lower one’s mortality risk and improve one’s biological age.

Currently, Levine is working to provide access to the algorithm online so that anyone can calculate their biological age, and take further steps to improve it.


For more information:

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #79: “Tiny Houses For Homeless Vets Makes A Lot Of Sense”

Today is Veterans Day. I waited to share this story, because I think it’s important.

In Kansas City, Missouri, former U.S. Army Corporal Chris Stout is definitely a hero. In more ways than one. Not only did he serve his country, but now he’s giving back to it. Through the Veterans Community Project, tiny homes have been built in the Veterans’ Village, all for veterans who are struggling with homelessness. Chris and several friends quit their jobs in 2015 to start the project, and it’s been blossoming ever since.

The first 13 homes were finished in January. Another 13 will be done by the end of this month. Each house is fully stocked – Furniture, linens, toiletries, food, and even welcome gift baskets.

However, Chris calls the houses the “sexy piece.” The bread and butter is the sense of community, camaraderie, and connecting veterans to the services they need.

In the interview, Chris stated that eight of the original 13 residents have found permanent housing. They take the furniture with them. It takes about 72 hours for a house to set up for a new resident.

The idea is for veterans to get back on their feet, with as much time as they need based on their goals, and get connected with the services they need. While starting the project, Chris found that many didn’t feel safe or have a sense of privacy with traditional shelters. The anticipated length of stay is six months, but as long as they are working on their goals, they’re welcome to stay as long as they like/need.

Another 23 houses are to set to be done by the beginning of 2019. In addition, a community center is nearly finished, which will have medical, dental, and veterinarian care, a barbershop, and a fellowship hall for group events.

When a veteran walks in, the staff gets to work with their bus pass, housing placement, job placement, legal services, food pantry, clothing closet, and emergency financial assistance. So far, the organization has helped more than 8,000 veterans.

More than 650 communities around the country have reached out to Veterans Community Project. They’re growing in Denver, Nashville, St. Louis, and more. Chris’s goal is to be in every major city, helping veterans with what they need.


Chris Stout has already been recognized as a CNN Hero. He’s in the Top 10. The hero with the most votes will receive $100,000 toward their cause. Voting ends December 4th.


Thank you to all veterans! We appreciate your service.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Awesome Authors #17: Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks

Image Credit: NewInBooks

Nicholas Sparks was my absolute go-to for romance novels for a long time. I own nearly every one of his books, and he was a defining author for me for several years.

In fact, I did my college senior thesis on his books. I studied the perceptions of love and romance from female readers. I would like to eventually publish it!

Born on New Year’s Eve 1965, Sparks was the second of three children. The family moved frequently while his father was pursuing graduate studies in Minnesota and California. Eventually, they settled in California after his father became a professor. On a track and field scholarship, Sparks majored in business finance at Notre Dame.

He married Cathy Cote in 1989, and they have had five children, three sons and twin daughters. He started writing in his early college years. His first publication was as a co-author in 1990. The book was titled Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding.

While selling pharmaceuticals in the early 1990s, Sparks wrote The Notebook. Literary agent Theresa Parks offered to represent him after finding it in her agency’s slush pile and liking it. She secured a $1 million advance from Time Warner Book Group in 1995. After its publication in October 1996, it made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week.

He lives in New Bern, North Carolina, where he donated $9 million to New Bern High School for an all-weather tartan track. He and his wife amicably separated in 2015, and subsequently divorced.

As of October 2018, he has published 22 books. He has published one book nearly every year since 1996, with two books being released in 2003, as well as 2005. Eleven books have been New York Times best-sellers. His most recent book is Every Breath.


A Walk to Remember (1999)

A Walk to Remember (Hardcover).jpg

Image Credit: Wikipedia

I honestly can’t remember if this was truly the first Sparks book I read. But, I loved it, and the movie adaptation (2002) was very good. It was also incorporated into some of our Sunday School classes and youth group activities.

The Notebook (1996)

The Notebook Cover.jpg

Image Credit: Wikipedia

I think I read this after the movie adaptation (2004) came out, but this is one of Sparks’s books that I treasure and re-read frequently. The movie adaptation is one of the best that’s ever been made, hands down.

Nights in Rodanthe (2002)

Nights in Rodanthe.jpg

Image Credit: Wikipedia

I felt a special connection with this book, since Rodanthe, North Carolina, is only about two hours south of where I live!

I wanted to love the movie adaptation (2008) so badly, especially since I’ve visited the house that’s featured in it multiple times, but it wasn’t that great.

Safe Haven (2010)

Safe Haven Cover.png

Image Credit: Wikipedia

This book was a hard read for me. I myself was a part of an abusive relationship for several years, and this book brought back several memories. Thankfully, by the time I actually read it, I was several years into dating Al.

I’m pretty sure we watched the movie adaptation (2013) together. I liked it a lot, despite the subject matter.

The Last Song (2009)

Image result for the last song book

Image Credit: Goodreads

I waited for what seemed like FOREVER to get my hands on a copy of this from the library! I devoured it on a car trip either to or from Florida.

Most people hated / loathed the movie adaptation (2010), but I liked it.


What about you? Have you read or seen any of Nicholas Sparks’ work?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #78: “T10T: Unexpected Levels of Impact” (Reblogged)

Thanks to Destiny at Howling Libraries for inspiring this post!


Here’s my top ten, in roughly chronological order:

Baby-sitters Little Sister - Amazon

1. Baby-Sitters Little Sister series, Ann M. Martin, circa mid-1990s

  • I can’t name a specific book in this series. There’s over 100 books!! I loved the adventures Karen got into, and how realistic her life was. Her entire family, and neighborhood, felt real to me. Martin also covered a lot of poignant issues in the eyes of a child: Divorce, two houses, re-marriage, school trouble, friendship issues, and more! I was about Karen’s age in the books when I started reading them, so I identified quite a bit with her.

Pleasant Company Catalogue Holiday 1991

2. American Girl Central Series, Various Authors, circa mid-1990s

  • I grew up with devouring the six-book series. I’m slowly rebuilding childhood library. I started with Samantha’s books, then Felicity’s, and eventually read all of them. Molly’s books remain my favorite. However, I feel close to Felicity, too, since her stories are set in Colonial Williamsburg!

Image result for harry potter and the sorcerer's stone book

3. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, circa 2000-2001

  • I was definitely late to the party with reading the Harry Potter books. I remember telling my classmates who had read everything that had been released to that point, “I don’t like fantasy. I’m not interested.” Once I tried it, though, I was hooked. I finished Sorceror’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets by the time the first movie was released, and my obsession only grew!

4. A Walk To Remember, Nicholas Sparks, 2003-2004

  • I’m pretty sure I watched the movie before reading the book. But, it was my first introduction into Sparks and his books. It was sad, but I wanted to read everything that Sparks had written after that. I ended up doing my college senior thesis on his books, so I’m fairly certain his books had a significant impact on my life.

5. This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen, 2004-2005

  • Like Destiny, I was hooked after finishing my first Dessen book. I remember taking out 2-3 books of hers at a time from the library!

Speak - Wikipedia

6. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson, circa 2006-2007

  • I think I borrowed this from the library? Regardless, I identified somewhat with Melinda, and her struggles. Anderson quickly became another favorite author, and I appreciate her writing and crafting of compelling characters. I’ve re-read this book multiple times, at several different stages of my life, and the impact is the same, every single time.

The Battle of Jericho - Amazon

7. The Battle of Jericho, Sharon M. Draper, circa 2005-2006

  • I don’t remember why exactly I picked up the book from the library, but I loved this book. I laughed, I cried, and I wanted more. Reading this book gave me a glimpse into the lives of African-American teenagers, and I found it fascinating and well-written. I have actively read almost all of Draper’s work because of her storytelling and care for her characters!

Looking For Alaska

8. Looking for Alaska, John Green, 2011

  • This was one of my assigned reading books for my Young Adult Literature class in the spring of 2011. I hadn’t read anything from Green until then, and it was such a powerful book. I thought it was fitting that I took this course during my last semester of college. A lot of the themes resonated with me, and I found myself reading it several times after graduation. Since then, Green has become one of my favorite authors.

Image Credit: www.shapingyouth.org

9. Tornado Warning: A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life, Elin Stebbins Waldal, 2015

  • It was clearly a cover draw when I found it at the library. I remember circling back to it during that library trip before picking it up and taking it home. I cried. It was such a hard book – I felt like I knew Elin and her struggles, given my own with my abusive relationship with John. I was compelled to buy my own copy after borrowing it from the library years later – All I could remember to search on Amazon was the title, and a yellow-orange flower. The copy I own, although used when I bought it, was lovingly signed by the author. It’s a book I will treasure forever.

Prez: A Story of Love

10. Prez: A Story of Love, Margaret Garrison, 2018

  • This book impacted me in several ways. First, it’s written by a fellow P.E.O. sister, which boosted my confidence in wanting to become a published author. She signed my copy, and it’s a really good story. It’s Garrison’s debut novel, and it’s an impressive one. I loved the story, the element of historical fiction, and having a woman break the proverbial glass ceiling in university administration.

Tell me about a book (or two, or five, or ten!) that impacted your life!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

howling libraries

TTT-Big2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week’s prompt was to list ten books with Sensory Memories, and I decided to take it a bit further.

These are ten books that impacted me on an unexpected level, in a good way. Some of them are books I expected to impact me at least a little, but not as much as they did in the end.

These are sorted in order from oldest memories to newest. 🙂

View original post 854 more words

Commentary #77: “There’s a severe shortage of mental health professionals in rural areas. Here’s why that’s a serious problem.”

Mental Health - Quotefancy

Image Credit: Quotefancy

I recently read another CNN article that I felt was worthy of sharing. It was published on June 20, 2018.

Here’s the link to the article:


For years, I’ve been fascinated with the Appalachian region of the United States. Part of it is because my grandmother (Mom’s mom) was raised in West Virginia, and other extended family members have lived in West Virginia and Kentucky, to name a few states.

The mountains are beautiful. Grandma Grace was raised during The Great Depression, and they survived. I have vague memories of visiting Great-Grandma Laura Bethany (whom I’m named after) on her farm in Ripley, and seeing Mom’s aunt’s and cousins in Beckley. These two areas aren’t deep in the mountains, but you can definitely see and feel the hills and valleys.

With all that said, Ripley and Beckley are small, but mighty. Other areas of West Virginia, and other states in the Appalachian region, have certainly struggled with the volatility of the coal mining industry, among other issues. The limited amount of research I’ve done shows years of struggles with poverty, unemployment, access to health care, and more. However, the Appalachian people are steadfast. I don’t want to be prejudicial, but research-based.

Along with difficulties accessing quality health care, and affording that care, mental health care is somewhat tied to that. It’s fascinating, as well as immensely frightening.

When I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the summer of 2015, I started taking a bigger interest in mental health, including news articles about the topic. I’m grateful that I have a stable job, with good health insurance, and access to good mental health resources and services.

I’ve seen several counselors since I was in college, for a variety of reasons, but the counselor who diagnosed me with GAD was a watershed moment for me. She helped me unpack a variety of issues that were causing significant stress, and in turn, contributing to my anxiety. I’ve been able to better understand GAD, and to work to figure out the best ways to limit and control my anxiety. It’s a daily exercise, but I’m proud to say that I’m not taking any medication, and I’m able to live a fairly productive life thanks to a powerful and helpful support system. I realize that my situation is very unique, and I’m grateful for everything!


The article is packed with statistics. I won’t go through all of them, but the main point is a majority of non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist, and nearly half do not have a psychologist. The best definition of a non-metropolitan county that I could find is one that does not have a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and has a population of 10,000 or less (Health Resources & Services Administration).

One of the interviewees, a clinical psychologist, pointed out that many rural areas only have generalists, i.e., primary care providers (PCPs), and there’s little to no specialized care. People are left on their own due to a lack of community mental health care, and nearby relevant hospital services.

The services that are available are focused on crisis intervention, not prevention. These services attempt to address the crisis as it’s happening, but nothing is available to prevent the crisis.

In addition to the lack of services and resources, health care funding cuts are exacerbating this problem. Roughly 80 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2017. Hundreds more are at risk.

Another problem the rural population faces is isolation. Isolation can spark downward spirals, which can lead to drug addiction, overdoses, depression, and suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rural areas have a higher suicide rate than non-rural areas, which has been widening since 2001.

This is a significantly complex and challenging problem that can’t be addressed with a single solution. However, there’s one bright spot that is starting to emerge – Telebehavioral health. The article provided the example of a patient in Wyoming “seeing” a psychologist in Pennsylvania via virtual sessions and online portals.

As promising as telebehavioral health appears, the article points out a host of other issues that rural residents face. Access to the Internet is one, being proficient with computers / technology another, and having the financial resources to access these mental health professionals.

To me, there needs to be a series of steps to tackle these issues. I don’t have all the answers, and I try to be as objective as possible.

There needs to be consistent investment in mental health services across the U.S. Every rural area that does not have a psychiatrist or psychologist should probably have at least one of each. The currently practicing doctors should be linked up to the existing mental health services, as well as be / become advocates for improving those services. Continued work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, addiction, and other mental health issues will also be beneficial.

Those support systems that people turn to in the event of a crisis – Family, friends, ministers, chaplains, and even first responders – should also have connections to mental health services. More mental health training for these support systems, specialized if possible, is also a good idea.

Throughout the network of ideas and potential solutions, the idea of making and sustaining connections and cooperation appears to be a common theme. In order to help the neediest residents, everyone involved with helping them should be educated, connected, and cooperative.

Example: Someone in a rural area is struggling with isolation and drug addiction, and overdoses. When the family member calls for an ambulance, the first responders take the resident to the local or nearest hospital. While recovering in the hospital, a series of people work behind the scenes to quickly identify others that can help – Family members, the hospital chaplain, the resident’s pastor, the resident’s primary care physician, and anyone else. Together, this network of resources work together to locate the nearest psychiatrist or psychologist, or even the nearest behavioral health center. The idea is to build a strong support system to get the resident the best mental health services possible.

This is strictly an example, but ideally, there needs to multiple levels of support and accountability for this to work. Every situation is different – Sometimes there’s no family, no primary care physician, difficulty accessing a behavioral health center, among other things. Regardless, if we invest in building these networks and support systems, maybe there can be a shift in crisis prevention, and less crisis intervention.


For more information, check out these resources. Several of these were also cited in the article.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂