By Kelly Daniel
For the Opelika
The first weeks of October include important awareness observances for mental health. Mental Health Awareness Week runs from Oct. 6 until Oct. 12, and World Mental Health Day takes place on Oct. 10. The upcoming observances seek to promote education about the importance of mental health support and treatment.
The Importance of Treating Mental
Just like any other organ in the body, the brain can experience dysfunction, with mental illness being a broad category for many brain disorders, including anxiety disorders, major depression and schizophrenia. As Mental Health America states on its website, “Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances or a combination of these.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains on its website that 1-in-5 Americans experience mental illness each year, while 1-in-25 experience serious mental illness.
The Risk of Suicide
While the psychological distress and life disruptions brought about by mental illness cause significant harm, perhaps the most tragic outcome of untreated mental illness is suicide. According to the CDC, Alabama had the 24th highest suicide rate in the nation in 2017.
Additionally, a report by Mental Health America found that the prevalence of suicidal thoughts has increased during the last year.
As the World Health Organization states on their web page on suicide prevention, “Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that impacts on families, friends, colleagues, communities, and societies.”
Mentally ill people who die by suicide are, at the time of the act, unable to see the high value of their lives and the great sadness caused by their deaths. However, with treatment, individuals experiencing suicidal ideation can overcome these thoughts and feelings of worthlessness and go on to live fulfilling lives. People struggling with thoughts of suicide should call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Effectiveness of Treatment
A source of optimism for mental health is the fact that current treatments, which include medication and counseling, have a high success rate. East Alabama Mental Health states on their website that “the vast majority of individuals with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives.”
Research supports the assertion of the effectiveness of mental health treatment. In a 2015 article on mental health treatments, The National Institute of Mental Health found that 75% of individuals treated for schizophrenia improve during a 10-year period, with many improving sooner.
The article also reported that counseling has also been found to be effective in treating depression and anxiety disorders. The same article also explains that even those with severe depression not responding to medication still have treatment options, including ECT, which was found to have an 85% success rate in severe depression after other options were unsuccessful.
Unique Challenges to Treating Mental Health Conditions
While mental illnesses are highly treatable, many people do not receive the treatment they need.
Nationally, more than half of people with mental illnesses did not receive treatment during the last year, according to the same MHA report referenced earlier. In Alabama, 474,000 adults with a mental illness did not receive treatment in the past year, out of the 737,000 Alabamian adults with a mental illness, according to the same report.
A significant challenge to treatment is stigma, as is described by NAMI on the page of their Stigma Free Me program. Because of the false beliefs that mental illness is caused by weakness or a lack of character, or out of fear of judgement from those who hold these beliefs, many individuals do not seek help, despite the well-documented nature of mental illnesses as brain disorders that are comparable to other physiological diseases.
Illness and the
Phenomenon of Anosognosia
Another challenge that occurs in many of the most severe cases of mental illness is the inability of the patient to comprehend that they need help. Many people with serious mental illnesses experience anosognosia, a condition that blocks self-awareness, leading to an inability of patients to recognize that something is wrong, as is explained on NAMI’s website.
Dr. Dennis Shannon, who serves as president of NAMI of East Alabama and is a professor with the College of Agriculture at Auburn University, said that he has seen the stress experienced by families who find themselves unable to help a loved one suffering from a serious mental illness. Anosognosia presents a barrier to treatment because, except for in cases where a legal agreement is already in place, families often cannot compel a loved one to enter treatment unless the loved one makes a clear threat to harm either him or herself, or somebody else. Shannon said that while any bystander is considered morally bound to help a stranger having a heart attack, not even close family members can help in many cases of serious mental illness.
NAMI explains that when an individual has already experienced a mental health crisis, that individual may wish to draft a psychiatric advanced directive, enabling family members to make important health decisions in a future crisis.
How to Seek Help
For anyone who is struggling or considering seeking treatment, East Alabama Mental Health has a hotline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for emergencies that may also be used during business hours for non-emergencies, at 800- 815-0630 or 334-742-2877.
NAMI also has a helpline that is available from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The two main facilities in Opelika are East Alabama Mental Health Center, located at 2506 Lambert Ave. and is reachable at 334- 742-2700, and East Alabama Psychiatric Services, which is located at 2740 Village Professional Dr. in Opelika.
Rivertown Psychiatry offers walk-in visits and is located at 2123 Executive Park Dr. in Opelika.
How to Get
For more information on World Mental Health Day, visit www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/en/.
To learn more about Mental Health Awareness Week, visit www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/mental-illness-awareness-week.
To become involved locally, Shannon said that the East Alabama chapter of NAMI always encourages new members to join. He explained that as membership increases, the local chapter can provide more programs and educational meetings. NAMI of East Alabama meets at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce at 714 E. Glenn Ave. on the third Tuesday of each month.