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Seasonal Blues: When is it Something More

Submitted by  Elizabeth Kapp, JMU Intern with Family Youth Initiative


Winter can be a season that gets people feeling down. During the colder months of the year, you may find yourself staying in more and feeling less motivated. While many people may think that their mood generally decreases during the long fall and winter months, is there a line between what is expected during that time and what is unhealthy?

A major difference between experiencing the blues and a having a depressive episode is when symptoms last two weeks or more. These symptoms include:

  • A depressed mood
  • A markedly diminished interest in all or almost all activities
  • Significant weight gain or loss, or significant decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (over-sleeping)
  • A feeling of moving in slow-motion
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Inability to concentrate or being unusually indecisive
  • recurring thoughts of death.

Depressive episodes can occur in a seasonal pattern. This regular pattern typically consists of a depressive episode starting in Fall or Winter, followed by a full remission in Spring or Summer and can occur over multiple years. The difference between having a lowered mood and having a depressive episode is that


Keeping Kids Healthy with 9-5-2-1-0

By: Elena Vanderveldt, Virginia Tech Dietetic Intern (mentored by Sara Kuykendall, MBA, RD, LD) Valley Health Wellness and Fitness Services


Although 9-5-2-1-0 may just sound like a bunch of numbers, it actually stands for healthy daily habits to help prevent childhood obesity and keep kids and teenagers healthy.

  • 9 - Beginning with sleep, children should start each day fresh after getting 9 hours of sleep at night.  Children who get less than 9 hours of sleep may have an increased appetite that can lead to weight gain and obesity.
  • 5 - In addition to getting enough sleep, children should aim to follow a healthy, balanced diet. Along with needing whole grains, low-fat dairy, and protein foods like fish, meat, eggs, beans, and nuts, children also need 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day to fuel their bodies. Colorful fruits and vegetables are important for the body to get enough vitamins and minerals needed for growth, staying healthy, and keeping within a good weight range.
  • 2 - Screen time spent playing video games, watching TV, playing on the computer, and using cellphones should only take up 2 hours or less each day.
  • 1 - Any more time spent sitting will take away from the 1 hour of physical activity that is needed each day. Physical activity, like walking or running around outside with friends, is important for muscle and bone growth, protecting against getting sick, and keeping kids feeling happy.
  • 0 - Once kids get their physical activity, they need to rehydrate with healthy beverages by drinking plenty of water and 0 drinks with added sugar. This means avoiding sodas, sports drinks, and juices that are not made of 100% juice. If children do drink juice, make sure it is 100% fruit juice and is limited to only 4-6 ounces per day. 

By following these simple ways to make better choices, children can lead healthier lifestyles. Visit tippingthescales.net for more information about making healthy choices.

The 95210 for HealthTM initiative is a product of the Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition and shared with Valley Health with permission.




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Tips for a Safe Outdoor Season: Use Your Head to Protect Your Brain

Submitted by the Brain Injury Association of Virginia

As the school year ends and gives way to vacations and hot summer weather, outdoor activities pick up the pace: sports and camp games are in full swing, and there is good weather for bike riding, skate-boarding, hiking, and other types of outdoor activities. This is a good time to remember that brain injuries can happen at any time of year, but children and adults are at greater risk during those times of increased outdoor activity.

Here are some suggestions for keeping your family’s brains safe, while enjoying all the health benefits that outdoor recreational activities can provide:

  1.  Adults and children should always wear a helmet for riding a bicycle, motor bike, or all-terrain vehicles, or when playing a contact sport.  A properly fitted helmet can provide a great deal of protection to the brain in the event of a fall, crash, or physical impact.  Be sure that your helmet sits firmly on your head and does not tip backwards or wobble from side to side.  If you fall or bang your head while wearing your helmet, check the helmet to be sure that it has not sustained any damage---if it has dents, tears, or cracks, replace it.  Remember that your brain’s protection is only as good as what you cover it with.
  2. Stay alert.  Outdoor activities are opportunities for fun and lots of adventures and children are always exploring new places and discovering new things.  When you’re having fun outdoors, it’s easy to lose track of where your children are, or what they’re doing.  Loss of oxygen to the brain from choking, near drowning or from drinking or eating a toxic substance can cause irreversible brain damage and can result in permanent disability.
  3. If you celebrate your team’s victory, do so responsibly.  Too many people are living with brain injuries as a consequence of an accident involving alcohol.  When you attend any gathering involving alcohol, always designate a non-drinking driver to get you home safely, and if no one is sober, call a cab or another friend for a ride.  Don’t let your children---toddlers or teenagers---ride in a car with someone who is impaired by alcohol.


Take Back The Night

By: Kristina M. Smith, Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer Coordinator


Have you ever heard a song that means one thing, but it really means something different to you? You know, you hear a song about a lost loved one, but it just comes to you at the right time and you associate that song with a bad break-up or a fall-out with a friend. It happens. I do it with songs all the time, but one that is relatively recent is Justin Timberlake’s “Take Back the Night.” (The meaning of that song isn’t our topic of discussion today, but if it’s something you do need to talk about I’m more than happy to lend a listening ear and some free, professional advice.) Have you ever heard of a DEA Drug Take Back event?Every time I think of the event I think of J.T. and “Take Back the Night.” A DEA Drug Take Back event is a designated day that businesses and organizations set up safe places for people to drop off their unused and unnecessary medications. From there they are safely transported to a disposal facility. Why would I get rid of my medicine, you ask? Let’s talk about that for a minute. 

Let’s say you have fallen and broken your leg. You are rushed to the hospital where your bone is set correctly and you are casted and medicated for pain. The pain medicine you’ve been prescribed can be addicting. Any medicine that is used improperly can be addicting, and this is not a good thing. So, you go home and take your pain medicine just as you are prescribed day in and day out. The pain subsides over time and you heal. Hooray! Now you have a nice tan line above the place where your cast was and you swear you’ll never wear shorts again until you even out. You also have a full bottle of pain medicine that your mom recently refilled, but you’re tough and you didn't need it after all.


Opening Up Lines of Communication with Teens

By: Leslie Stewart, Executive Director, CLEAN, Inc.


Most people would agree that communication is a key factor in any relationship.  Being able to have strong communication with your child will create a healthy connection within the family and will allow for an environment in which your child will thrive. Somewhere around age 13, however, this communication can become rather challenging.

Developmentally, children change physically and emotionally in early adolescence. Along with these changes comes a need and desire for more independence. This often results in less communication and ultimately less family interaction. Parents often struggle with these changes and the communication breakdowns begin to emerge, resulting in parents’ frustration and lack of comfort while talking to their child. When parents feel pushed away by their teen, it is very important that they not take it personally.  Instead parents and caregivers need to modify the way that they communicate with their child to fit their changing needs.

Although your child is looking for independence, they still need regular structure and the connectedness that family can provide. It is important that parents maintain the structure of the household, communicate their expectations of their child, and encourage children to communicate with their parents.

Many parents are confused as to how to talk to their teens when they seem unwilling to interact. Parents often don’t want to push communication, fearing it may result in irritability and/or frustration on the part of both the parent and child. Allowing your teen some autonomy is very important, as long as they know that you are there for them. Good, open lines of communication will allow for daily check-ins with your child.  Encourage them to talk about what is going on with daily life and ask what he or she needs from you. Parents often assume that their teen wants problems solved for them. However, this is not is not always the case. Giving your child the opportunity to problem-solve, and offering your help to assist this, is much more valuable that fixing the problem. 


Time to Talk About Dating Violence

     By: Sarah Stack, Intern, Response  Inc.


February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month which makes it an important time to understand the facts about dating violence. Nearly 1.5 million high school students experience physical violence from their significant other every year. Females ages 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group. Violent relationships in the teenage years can have serious effects by putting the victims at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further violence (www.loveisrespect.org).

Even though there is no definite way to predict who will be an abuser or a victim, there are certain factors that can be indicators of someone’s behavior later in life. A few examples of risk factors for committing relationship violence are low self-esteem, heavy alcohol and drug use and low academic achievement (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention). The severity of violence is often greater when the individual was abused as a child.

Some warning signs of an unhealthy relationship may include:

  • A significant other who gets angry easily
  • A significant other who pushes you further sexually then you are comfortable with
  • A significant other who tries to control who you talk to and who you hang out with

Healthy relationships involve mutual trust and respect in the relationship as well as honesty and open communication. It is also important to have a separate identity from your significant other and to have interests and friends outside of that one person (http://kidshealth.org/teen/).

According to an article about teen dating violence put out by the Clothesline Project, 57 percent of teens know someone who has been physically, sexually, or verbally abusive in a dating relationship. This is why it is important for teens to not only know about dating violence, but to know that it is okay – and important – to speak out against the violence. 81 percent of parents stated that they did not know dating violence was an issue in schools and over half of the parents surveyed said that they had not spoken to their children about the issue. Time to Talk Day is February 4th, 2014; this is a nationally recognized day highlighting the importance of talking about healthy relationships and how to prevent dating violence. This would be a great day for parents and teens to discuss the issue and create understanding about dating violence and what it looks like (http://www.itstimetotalkday.org/).

There is hope. Youth and young adults who have supportive family and friends and live in a community that works to support domestic violence prevention efforts have less risk of being in an abusive relationship. Local domestic violence centers are holding several events in the month of February concerning dating violence:

  • Response Inc. will sponsor events at the local middle and high schools in Shenandoah County to give out information and encourage students to sign a pledge against dating violence.
  • Choices, of Page County, will be working with Page County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and Luray High School FCCLA to put on a mock-trial in February during class time. 
  • On February 10th at 2pm, the Laurel Center is hosting a flash mob at the Brandt Student Center at Shenandoah University to rise together as a way to speak out against dating violence.



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Is Driving Under the Influence Worth the Risk?

By: Amber Sizemore, Family Youth Initiative Intern

December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. In 2011, 9,878 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States. (www.madd.org)  Of the 1,210 traffic deaths among children ages zero to fourteen in 2010, 211 deaths were a result of an alcohol-impaired driver. (www.healthyandroscoggin.org) According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2012, 8,777 crashes were alcohol related and 229 resulted in fatalities. (www.dmv.state.va.us)

As the holiday season quickly approaches, it is important to take into consideration safety tips for attending holiday parties. Prior to attending a holiday event, be sure to designate a non-drinking driver who is dependable and never ride with someone who is under the influence. In 2011, 1.2 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (www.madd.org) It is important to be mindful of weather conditions as well when traveling to and from a destination during the holidays.

Although December is recognized as National Drunk and Drugged Driving Month, it is important to remember that drinking and driving is not the only cause of fatalities on the road. In 2011, 3,331 people lost their lives due to a distracted driver. (www.distraction.gov) Distracted driving includes but is not limited to texting, making a phone call, eating and drinking, and talking with passengers. 660,000 drivers are using cell phones, iPods, or various other electronic devices at any moment during the day across the United States. (www.distraction.gov) Eleven percent of youth under the age of twenty were involved in fatal crashes due to distracted driving, making youth greatly at risk to be involved in fatal car crashes.  (www.osha.gov


It is recommended that parents talk to children and teens about the importance of not texting or using electronic devices while driving. Parents can set a good example for youth by not being distracted while driving and reminding those in the car to wear their seatbelts. It is important that teens also encourage their friends to put away electronic devices while driving or if there is an emergency to offer to make the phone call for the driver.  Distracted driving crashes and fatalities are preventable.
Drunk and drugged driving is equally as preventable as distracted driving. Be conscious of the consequences of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, especially as the holiday season approaches. Remember to designate a responsible individual who will be the sober driver for the evening and never ride with someone who is under the influence. If each person is responsible not only during the holiday season, but all year around, the statistics of fatalities due to driving under the influence can be reduced. One less family could potentially be spared from having to grieve the loss of a loved one during the holiday seasons if individuals choose to be responsible and not drive while under the influence.



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Cultural Sensitivity: Raising Awareness of Issues Surrounding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

By: Janet Tinkham, Education/Outreach Coordinator of AIDS Response Effort, Inc.

November's Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith in honor of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed that year.  A vigil was held to acknowledge all of the transgender people who were victims of violence that year.  November 20 became the date that is recognized annually not only to memorialize those who have been killed as a result of anti-transgender violence, but to continue the fight for justice.   To this day there is still anti-transgender bigotry and violence directed at individuals who strive for basic human rights and the freedom to live in peace.  We CAN join forces and work together to illicit change.  The first step is to educate ourselves so that we may go forward to help raise awareness, understanding and compassion for those transgender people who are so misunderstood, and marginalized in today’s society.