On May 1, President Obama proclaimed this Mental Health Awareness Month, during which, “we reaffirm our commitment to building our understanding of mental illness, increasing access to treatment and ensuring those who are struggling to know that they are not alone.”
Mental illness is a diagnosable disorder that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state and behavior, and disrupts the person’s ability to work, carry out daily activities and engage in satisfying relationships. Mental illness is common; according to the National Institute for Mental Health more than 26 percent of the population will experience some form of mental illness in any given year. But only 41 percent of those people will receive mental health services and, in most cases, these individuals will wait an average of 10 years to seek treatment.
Mental health disorders usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood; 50 percent of all mental health disorders begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24.
While mental health disorders seldom cause premature death, the disease impact is substantial. A study conducted in the Netherlands in 1997 demonstrated that the disability of moderate depression is similar to the impact from relapsing multiple sclerosis, severe asthma and chronic hepatitis B, and the disability from severe post-traumatic stress disorder is comparable to the disability from paraplegia. More recently, the World Health Organization has collected data indicating mental illnesses rank as the biggest health problem in North America and are ahead of both cardiovascular disease and cancer.
While these statistics can seem dismal, the good news is recovery from mental illness is possible. In 2003, the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, defined recovery as “the process in which people are able to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities. For some, this is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life despite a disability. For others, recovery implies the reduction or complete remission of symptoms.”
Recovery involves four aspects of daily living: making informed, good choices to take care of your health, maintaining stability at home, living a meaningful life and being involved in your community. Most individuals are able to achieve recovery through treatment and ongoing support and recovery can be maintained throughout life. However, it is important to remember that recovery is different for everyone and individual recovery plans are based on an individual’s unique needs.
Often one of the most common barriers to recovery is the stigma that is still associated with mental illness. Many people do not seek treatment because they are afraid to be labeled as “crazy” or some other negative term commonly used in our culture. However, this stigma stems from a lack of information and a fear of the unknown both by the person experiencing the symptoms and those around him or her. By increasing our knowledge and building support systems in our community, we can decrease the incidence of this barrier and increase the number of people supported in their recovery.
Fortunately, we have a few organizations in our community that offer free support for mental health recovery: BayCare Behavioral Health and NAMI Hernando. BayCare offers a free community mental health recovery class called WRAP. WRAP is an acronym for Wellness Recovery Action Plan and is taught by a certified peer specialist. For more information about WRAP contact BayCare at (352) 540-9335. In addition, NAMI Hernando is the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is a non-profit organization that offers free support, education and advocacy for those with mental illness. NAMI Hernando offers consumer, family and parent support groups as well as educational classes for parents, families and consumers. It plans to hold an open board meeting for all interested Hernando County residents from 4 to 6 p.m. this Tuesday. For more information contact the Beautiful Mind Center at (352) 684-0004.
Dawn Wever is a licensed mental health counselor and has worked in the behavioral health care industry for six years. Additional resources and information can be found on her website at http://dawnweverlmhc.com.