A fresh look at mental illness

“Never give up on someone with mental illness.

When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We,’ illness becomes wellness.”

Shannon L. Alder

American author, and person with ADD and OCD

According to statistics released by The National Institute on Mental Health 43.8 million adults in our nation, 1 in 5 adults, experience mental illness in a given year. There are 10 million adults live with a serious mental illness…that’s 1 in 25 adults in our nation.

Clearly one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by age 24. Additionally, it is estimated that 20 percent of teenagers aged 13-18 are living with a mental health condition. Mental illness continues to affect a large part of our society, and the numbers continue to increase with our growing population.

Also, of major importance, is that clearly 50 percent of persons with a chronic mental illness also have a diagnosable substance use disorder.

What has always remained most appalling to me is the provision of services to persons with mental illness, particularly in the State of Texas, which still ranks number 49 of the 50 states in per-capita spending on individuals with mental illness. It is true that the state and local communities have developed innovative in-patient and out-patient programs of treatment due to the lack of funding and funding shifts, yet more than 60 percent of adults with mental illness and 50 percent of youth with mental illness do not receive any treatment for their illness.

This continues to be a Ca Plus Change situation…the more things change the more they remain the same.

Most of you are aware of the added consequences of this lack of treatment services in our nation: 26 percent of homeless individuals without treatment, 24 percent of state prisoners having a recent history of mental illness, the $193 billion in lost earnings every year of persons with mental illness, the 90 percent of those committing suicide with an underlying mental illness, the unimaginable cost to families with a member with mental illness, etc. But above all else, shouldn’t we first consider the individual with the mental illness themselves? What about them?

Now, do not get me wrong. I have worked in the field of mental health for well over 40 years, and been a constant advocate for persons with mental illness…I know that our community for the most part is doing the best job they can do with the tools they are given. The treatment facilities have mostly grown over the years; we now have outstanding inpatient and out-patient programs for the mentally ill and their families, and new facilities being built.

The folks at Rio Grande State Center, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, the Valley Baptist Health System, and other facilities in our Valley communities are doing a “bang-up” job with their therapeutic and social programs. They have learned, and continue to learn, about just how to provide innovative programs within the budget restraints imposed on them to our urban and rural communities.

We would be most remiss, however, if we think what they are doing is “just good enough” without room for improvement, and I am sure that they also think the same way I do…we won’t be satisfied until 100 percent of individuals with mental illness receive treatment.

I know that some of you out there are saying, “But Dr. Jones, I am not in a position to make changes.” “It is up to the state and our communities to take care of those people, not I.” The “State” and “Community” are but ambiguous terms …we, the people, are the state and the community, and many lose sight of that at times. For most, just the concept of awareness is doing something: helping to stem the tide of discrimination and prejudice toward individuals with mental illness; by educating ourselves and our families about mental illness, by being empathetic towards those with a mental illness, by becoming an advocate (at whatever level you can) for persons with mental illness, by being in support of those who work in the mental health fields…all of us have something to contribute.

All of us should become “Stigma Free” when it comes to persons with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends three issues that we should all be involved in. First: Learn about mental health issues. We should all educate ourselves and others. Everyone knows a little about mental health issues but knowing the facts about mental illness can help one educate others and reject stigmatizing stereotypes.

Second: See the person and not the illness. One in five Americans live with a mental health condition and each of them has their own story, path and journey that says more about them than their diagnoses.

Third: Take action on mental health issues. Our mental health care systems have been in crisis for far too long and often keep treatment and recovery out of the hands of many who need it. We can take action now as we push for better legislation and policies to improve lives for everyone. By lending your support you can show that this cause is important to you and desperately need for millions of Americans.

Yes my friends, there is something that each of us can do. Let us all work together to concentrate on the “Wellness” and not the “Illness…” to exact positive change, not just verbiage. Until next time, Stay Healthy my Friends.