Health literacy affects everyone

OKEECHOBEE — Health literacy was the topic this month during the Okeechobee Children’s Mental Health System of Care’s Family Night at Indian River State. If you’ve ever seen these family nights advertised and wondered what they are all about or maybe wished you could attend, you’re not alone. Many people are confused by the name and think the family nights are only for certain people who are part of their program already or who have a child suffering from mental illness.

The family nights are for anyone who is interested in the topic, and the monthly topics range from internet safety to health literacy to suicide awareness. There is no need to register for the family nights. You just show up, and dinner is even provided by a different local restaurant each month. You do not have to have a child to attend, and you do not have to bring the child with you if you do attend.

Their mission, according to their website, is “to educate and empower youth and families to work with community partners to foster and promote a children’s mental health system that cares.”

After a pizza dinner provided by Little Caesar’s, Tiffany Parrish of the Lake Okeechobee Rural Health Network was introduced. “Health literacy” is the ability to understand what a medical professional tells you about your health and also the ability to communicate what is going on with you — your needs to that professional, she said. Ms. Parrish began by mentioning some simple, yet important examples of miscommunication that could have had serious consequences. The first was a patient who spoke only Spanish and was given a medication that was to be taken once a day. To anyone who speaks English, this means one time, but to someone who speaks Spanish, the word “once” means 11 so this patient might have taken the medication 11 times a day if he was not clearly educated about it. The second example was about taking food on an empty stomach. She said she had always understood this to mean your stomach should be empty before taking the medication, but it actually means it needs to stay empty even after taking the medication for a little while. She said part of being health literate is knowing when to ask questions and not being afraid to ask those questions. You are in charge of your body and your health, she said.

Nine out of 10 adults struggle to understand health information when it is unfamiliar or jargon-filled — words like “tachycardia” or “hypertension.” Many people use the emergency room as a primary care provider, and this costs the individual and the community more money, she said. In Okeechobee County, one in five adults has been diagnosed with diabetes, and one in three suffers from high blood pressure, and these are just the people who have actually been diagnosed. There are very likely more who have the conditions but have not been diagnosed, Ms. Parrish said.

Working together with the Health Council of Southeast Florida, the Lake Okeechobee Rural Health Network offers free workshops to help the public become more health literate:

• Health literacy workshops consisting of four, one-hour sessions with 12 to 15 participants.

• Chronic disease self management and diabetes workshops, which meet once a week for six weeks and have eight to 15 participants. Family members are encouraged to attend these as well because often they are doing the cooking for the diabetic patient. The workshop teaches action planning/goal setting and problem solving.

The workshops are scheduled for different days and times to make it more convenient for people to attend depending on their schedules.

For more information on the workshops or health literacy in general, contact Ms. Parrish at 561-844-4220, ext.1500, or email tparrish@hcsef.org.

For more information about the Okeechobee Children’s Mental Health System of Care, contact them on their website www. okee.k12.fl.us. Follow the Parent, Student or Community tab to: Mental Health Information.

They can be found on Facebook at okeesoc and on Instagram at okeesoc1.

March’s Family Night will be a Children’s Behavioral Health Fair where you can learn about the services available to children in our community. It is scheduled March 26.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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