Wellness: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Combating Prejudice and Discrimination

Ralph E. Jones

“To leave behind what was in reality a hell, and immediately have good green earth revealed in more glory than most men ever see it, was one of the compensating privileges which make me feel that my suffering was worthwhile.” Clifford Beers (1876-1943).

After suffering years of mental illness, termed “insanity” in his day, Clifford Whittingham Beers recovered from his illness and went on to become the first advocate for the mentally ill in the United States, and founded the National Mental Health Association.

He penned the story of his mental illness, his many hospitalizations, and subsequent recovery; in the book “The Mind that Found Itself” in 1908.

The National Mental Health Month, through the efforts of the National Mental Health Association and the Jaycees, was established in 1949 to promote awareness and education about mental illness…to alleviate the myths, misconceptions, and the erroneous behaviors and faulty assumptions…prejudice and discrimination toward individuals with mental illness.

Each year at this time, as I have done for many years, I take “pen in hand” to write about this most important event with hope that others may also take part in whatever way they can.

Our perceptions of the world around us are formed through the values and attitudes of our teachings, and those perceptions often are developed into prejudicial attitudes. Those things we do not understand may often be perceived through prejudicial lenses, which often lead to distorted thought processes. Nowhere is this more evident than with many individuals perception of the person with mental illness.

We have come an extremely long way in our country when it comes to dealing with prejudicial behavior and stereotypical thinking in regard to racial and gender related issues, but the development on a non-distorted perception of the groups and persons with mental illness has taken much, much more time; and has permeated every aspect of our society. It is way past time that we do not think of “Stigma” concerning those with mental illness and call it as it is: Prejudice and Discrimination.

Data derived from the National Mental Health Association tells us that today one in five adults — approximately 43.8 million Americans — xperience mental illness in a given year. One in 25 — about 9.8 million — live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Approximately 21 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8-15, the estimate is 13 percent. Yet, with all the progress made for treatment of the mentally ill, 60 percent of adults and 50 percent of youth with mental illness received no mental health service in the past year. Also, of importance to know, is that 50 percent of individuals with mental illness also have a Substance Use Disorder; those with a Dual Diagnosis.

If we look at the picture of the plight of the mentally ill in Texas and our community, the figures become much more meaningful to us. The latest National Census Bureau estimate of Texas population is more than 26 million. Cameron County and the City of Harlingen give us a population of 406,220 and 66,122 respectfully (as U.S. Census data is only completed every 10 years, the next being 2020, we know the numbers have increased quite dramatically at the time of this writing).

Extrapolating the percentages of mentally ill would give us approximately 6 million in the state, 16,000 in the county and 1,530 in the city of Harlingen…those experiencing serious mental illness (classified as Schizophrenia, Major Depression, and Bipolar Illness). The numbers are much higher if other mental illnesses are included, such as Anxiety Disorders, etc.

When one looks at Treatment for mental illness in the State and locally, in the amount of monies spent by the State of Texas, the outlook has remained bleak for many years; but has most certainly increased in viability. The cost to treat the mentally ill remains quite high, but the budget for mental health treatment in our state has actually increased. In 1983 Texas was number 45 of the fifty states in monies provided per capita toward the mentally ill.

In 2012 Texas was number 50 of the 50 states in monies provided per capita toward treatment of the mentally ill. Today it has gone to the number 33 position, although this number varies depending on whose statistics you follow (estimates run from position 33 to position 45)…most certainly an improvement from those early days. The “trickle down” of these funds have had a serious impact on our community; as the Valley region appears to have always seen less of these funds. Treatment access and treatment provided in Texas has been given “D’s and F’s” by national tracking agencies.

The therapies and treatments afforded patients and clients today in our community is representative of other hospitals and clinics of mental health throughout the nation; individual and group psychotherapy, psychotropic medication therapy, community living groups, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, physical medical care, work-study programs, dual-disorder education, etc.

We are most fortunate to have a number of facilities in our area that offer treatment and recovery efforts for those afflicted with mental illness…the Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, the Valley Baptist Behavioral Health, the Rio Grande State Center, the Palms Behavioral Health, and the Mental Health Clinic of our local Veterans Administration Health Clinic.

The present state of mental health treatment in our community, the State, and Nation; even with its imperfections, offers a most professional, viable service to the millions of individuals with emotional problems and mental illness, and continues to improve (despite financial and staffing problems) in research, prevention and treatment efforts. This is not to say that improvement is always needed.

The most essential element, and the reason for Mental Health Awareness Month, is to get our citizenry behind efforts to improve awareness and treatment efforts in our State and Valley Communities…to bring to an end the prejudice and discrimination toward those with mental illness. This can be done by going to web sites concerning mental health (such as NAMI and SAMHSA) and find out how you may be involved. I strongly urge contacting your local; state and national representatives and Senators to voice your concerns.

I am aware also of the efforts of promotion of this most important occasion by our educational institutions; as example UT-RGV University in Brownsville, in conjunction with the Cameron County Mental Health Task Force.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are forever indebted to those pioneers who brought us into a new age of perception about mental illness; particularly Clifford. May we all increase our awareness of the individuals and families suffering from the effects of mental illness; to alleviate their pain and anguish, eliminate the myths and negative actions associated with mental illness, the prejudice and discrimination toward persons with the disabling conditions of mental illness, and promote treatment for those with mental illness.

May you and your loved ones maintain concern and care for mental health as well as physical health…may You Stay Healthy My Friends!