Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mental Health Awareness and Education Now and in the Future

Sarah Spiers

Many political issues have arose from the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting. The one that concerns me the most is the discussion happening about mental illness. There are people going in front of the national media implying that every one of us that suffers from a mental illness should be locked away forever and ever just like in the '50's. It wouldn't surprise me if they wanted to bring lobotomies back.

Instead of being scared of every one of us and clutching your children as we walk by we need awareness and education. Instead of perpetuating the already horrible stigma those of us with mental health issues face daily, educate everyone about mental illness and speak the truth rather than propaganda. Instead of locking all of us away in the mental system that's already overloaded, underfunded and failing - help us get our medicines and therapy.

According to NAMI:
One in four adults - approximately 57.7 million Americans - experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. 

One-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24.6 Despite effective treatments, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first onset of symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment.

Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.

Twenty-four percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have a recent history of a mental health disorder. Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental disorder with at least 20 percent experiencing significant functional impairment from a serious mental illness.

That is a LOT of people, adults and children alike in the US that have a mental illness. Most of us do not commit violent crimes.

As a side note, I'd bet the number of mental health patient "criminals" would decline a significant amount if marijuana would be legalized at least for medicinal purposes.

The system needs to be changed. It is bloody difficult to find appropriate help before it's too late. I am personally dealing with the system myself. I have a new general practitioner, I have a new psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (that I'm unsure about) and I have a new counselor that I love.

People with mental health issues need to know that it is OK to seek help. Unfortunately that doesn't happen because of the stigma we face. Nobody wants the neighbors to think we're crazy. We don't want to have to take pills for the rest of our lives. We don't want people to avoid us because there's "something wrong" with us.

I don't believe anything is "wrong" with me. I was dealt a difficult mental illness (Type I Rapid Cycling Bipolar), but I survive and cope every day without committing violent acts... as do many other people with mental illnesses. To me, bipolar is a part of me like the Marilyn Monroe mole I was born with. It is just a fact of life.

The education and awareness needs to start at a young age. Anymore parents aren't being parents and they don't have coping skills of their own. Children need to learn how to cope with situations rationally, logically and safely rather than doing the things they see on TV. Children and teenagers can be taught that we're not all scary people and can lead normal lives.

If we can teach the younger generation compassion and understanding we can have a better future. I'd imagine we would have far more mental health professionals entering the field that are more able to help their patients. The stigma (in the long run) would be reduced because the education and awareness instilled into them would be lessened.

Unfortunately, as of now, we're still fighting against 1940's - 70's thoughts on mental healthcare. Lock em all away for life. We're seen as people with lessened or no value... and that's just not true.

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