Every year the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranks every county in the nation based on how they compare to others within the same state. The recently released 2023 County Health Rankings (CHR) have ranked Whatcom County 11th out of the 39 counties in Washington State, down from a previous rank of seventh in 2022. There were several areas where we improved from last year. Our change in ranking from 2022 to 2023 is better interpreted as improved performance by other high-ranking counties than from Whatcom County performing poorly.
“Whatcom County consistently performs better than the state average, as well as the national average, across a majority of the health measures that make up this report,” said Dr. Amy Harley, Co-Health Officer, Whatcom County Health and Community Services.
Our health and disease scientists have reviewed data behind the 34 specific health measures that go into how counties are ranked. The CHR uses the most recent data available for each health metric, which could come from 2020, 2021, or 2022. We look for trends and any significant changes in the data.
Whatcom County’s performance among a vast majority of the health measures is consistent from one year to the next. The data showed three areas of noticeable improvement:
- Fewer adults reported being obese (2020).
- Fewer people were unemployed (2021).
- More people were involved in social groups in Whatcom County (2020).
Past research has shown that all of these things are associated with positive health outcomes, both in length of life and quality of life.
One measure that likely had a negative impact on Whatcom County’s rank was the average number of poor mental health days anonymously reported by survey respondents, which increased from 4.4 days to 5.5 days. This increased rate is from 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. An average of 5.5 poor mental health days is significantly higher than the state average of 4.5 days. We know that the pandemic negatively impacted mental health in 2020 and beyond. Nationally, more than half of adults with a mental health diagnosis did not receive treatment or counseling last year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Many people are afraid of being treated differently if they ask for help. The good news is that our society is rejecting this old stigma, and you should too!
NAMI’s local Whatcom chapter offers support groups both in person and online at namiwhatcom.org/support and if you need help but want to take that first step anonymously, you can call or text 988 anytime. A chat feature is also available for 988 at 988Lifeline.org. The first step can be the hardest. Just remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
A rank of 11 out of 39 in the CHR still places Whatcom County among the top third healthiest counties in the state, with opportunity for improvement. We will continue our work to support mental health programs in our community and support other programs that help us maintain our high rankings in the other 33 health measurements used in the study.