by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – Two simple words can strike fear into people in a unique way. That fear can – and often does – stop people from asking the right questions, accepting the reality of situations and getting help that may be readily available to them or their loved ones.
Those two words are “Mental Illness”.
When symptoms like physical pain are noticed, many Missourians get right to the doctor. When mental struggles are in their life, many refuse to take that same approach. That could be from a lack of understanding about what’s happening and it could be from fear of being labeled “mentally ill” and the stigma that comes with it.
That’s a dangerous problem. The Crider Center’s President, Laura Heebner, says on “Missouri Viewpoints” that dealing with mental issues shouldn’t be different than dealing with other health concerns. She says it starts with a better understanding throughout society.
“In reality, a mental illness is a brain-related medical condition that typically impacts a person’s ability to think and feel and relate to others in a way that allows them to lead a full, productive life.”
While everyone gets the blues from time to time, Heebner says mental illness is when someone’s ability to function normally is diminished. Extended impact on functioning at work, at school, in daily tasks and in relationships with friends and family could be signs of mental illness.
Crider Center Vice President Katrina Harper points out that some studies indicate around a quarter of Americans deal with some form of mental illness at some point in their life. She says bipolar disorder and depression are the most common. Many of those affected do not seek help.
Some make matters worse by trying to cope through drug and alcohol abuse.
Harper adds that, in addition to overall stigma with friends and family, some Missourians who think they may have a mental health concern are afraid of consequences in the workplace. The fear of what loved ones think and the fear of consequences at work, Harper says, can lead to a greater sense of isolation.
Where should you go if you notice changes in your feelings or behavior that won’t go away and that worry you or those close to you? Heebner says you start the same place you’d start if any other part of you hurts.
“The first place to start is with your primary care physician…because it certainly could be another medical condition that’s causing this to happen.”
Both Heebner and Harper hope more Missourians will overcome a fear of talking to doctors about mental conditions and get help. That help could be in the form of counseling, medication or a combination of both.
Then again, just like with the discomfort you feel in your stomach or ankle, you may not need a prescription or therapeutic regimen at all. The key is to seek help when you have a concern.
Harper points out that early communication is key to getting a handle on mental health conditions. That means parents must work to keep open communication with their children throughout their lives. It also means using resources that are available such as school counselors when needed.
Much of mental health, according to Heebner and Harper, involves chemical balances and imbalances in the brain. That can be impacted by many things both in the body and from without.
Government, business and medicine are changing how they view mental health. A typical health insurance policy now covers mental health expenses to some degree and business regulations often treat mental illness similar to other ones when it comes to employee rights and privacy.
While there are still areas of public policy, health care and regulations related to mental health that must still be worked out in the state, the changes that have happened so far are bringing the needs into the mainstream discussion.
Heebner says there is another challenge when it comes to mental health care. It’s a challenge she worries could still limit mental health treatments even if all the other questions are answered at some point.
“There are not enough psychiatrists in this nation and Missouri certainly is suffering from that as well. So, even if you have insurance and you have resources and you call a psychiatrist, you’ll sometimes wait two months before you can get an appointment. Well, if someone’s in a psychiatric crisis, two months is a awful long time to get the help that you need.
“We really need to figure out a way, as a state, to incentivize our young people to go into that discipline when they want to become a doctor.”
On the web:
The Crider Health Center: www.CriderCenter.org
Missouri Department of Mental Health: http://dmh.mo.gov/