Thursday, July 5, 2007

Coping with Mental Illness: Help Is Here

COURT HOUSE— More than 44 million Americans suffer from a mental health disorder according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 80 percent of which also have a sub-stance abuse problem.

“He’s been through counseling, seven rehabs, overdosed four of five times,” said the North Wildwood resident and mother of a schitzo-affected adult son suffering from severe anxiety, bi-polar disease, and substance abuses.

The Herald is withholding the names of mother and son to protect their privacy.

What this mother described is termed by psychiatric professionals as a dual diagnosis, oc-curring when an individual is affected by both an emotional or psychiatric illness and chemical dependency.

The woman describes her son as a shy boy, who experienced extreme emotional highs and lows and delusions of grandeur.

“He doesn’t listen,” said the North Wildwood resident, “he does not think logically.”

She said she feels alcohol and drug use was what escalated the situation with her son’s mental health.

“We had a lot alcoholism in our family, mostly functioning alcoholics, but in those days we didn’t know. People didn’t talk about their problems.”

At 14, her son had his first suicidal overdose.

Afterward, she sought assistance from Cape Counseling Center in Court House.

“It’s very hard for kids,” she said. “He came out of rehab and re-entered school at 16 so-ber, but his friends were drinking and smoking pot. Of course he wanted to do what they were doing.”

Her son, now in his thirties, was in the Ancora facility last year where he connected with Rachel Parzio-Corso, an advocate with New Jersey Protection and Advocacy, Inc. (NJP&A).

Designated by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1994, NJP&A serves as a free service agency of attorneys and advocates who monitor investigations, respond to cases and teach people to be self-advocates.
Parzio-Corso, who also has a son with mental health issues, attends a jail task force monthly and responds to cases such as when a person is in jail and doesn’t have access to proper medication, or in the case of this North Wildwood mother’s son, assists patients in receiving the best treatment for their particular situation and assuring their rights are pro-tected.

Parzio-Corso said issues she comes in contact with are overmedication in psychiatric hospi-tals and extended incarceration for offences that may have been escalated into extended is-sues because the person is mentally ill.

She said she also deals with more minor issues in psychiatric hospitals such as laundry be-ing returned to a mentally ill person with holes and burns, or not returning at all.

“We’re trying to put an end to issues like that,” Parzio-Corso said.

The Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry reports that 320,000 people who suffer from severe mental illness are incarcerated in our jails and prisons today.

Parzio-Corso told the Herald that 15 to 20 percent of inmates are mentally ill, and they will spend an average of eight times longer incarcerated than other inmates due to infrac-tions stemming from response to lack of proper treatment and medication.

Cape Counseling is working to change this situation by heading it off before mentally ill individuals get into trouble.

The non-profit group provides mental health education programs throughout the county, support groups for patients and families, and a free service program, Families F.I.R.S.T., which provides education and support for family members of loved ones with mental ill-ness, to assist them in situations such as this North Wildwood mother and her son.

Cape Counseling also provides psycho-educative services to local police departments in how to interact with a mentally ill suspect, or just in an everyday situation.

“Lower Township has been wonderful,” said Samantha Knocke, a family support special-ist at Cape Counseling’s center in Court House.

Some police departments in Gloucester and Camden counties employ special agents to handle situations with mental health issues because they can be so particular and difficult to manage.

“I’ve seen the police beat my son,” the North Wildwood mother said. “He gets scared, you back him in to a corner, and he reacts. But you have to look at both sides. The person is afflicted and afraid, those interacting with them don’t know how to properly handle them.”

It’s situations like these that called for the creation of the Families F.I.R.S.T. program.

The program defines mental illnesses as physical brain disorders that profoundly disrupt a person’s ability to think, feel, and relate to others and their environment.

Mental illnesses, according to their literature, are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
The program has over 40 active participating families in this county; another 60 participants are what the program terms “inactive.”

“But they are always welcome. Once you are a part of Families F.I.R.S.T, you are always welcome to come back,” program manager Jodi Hynes told the Herald.

“You just have to hope you get the right kind of help. It’s scary,” the North Wildwood mother said.

“We work to protect what we call the patient bill of rights,” Parzio-Corso said. “We focus on making sure these people are treated with dignity and respect.”

She told the Herald the three biggest problems she has seen through her work are; lack of housing, affordable and also availability of half-way house situations, safety, because of hos-pital incidents, and mentally ill patients continually being incarcerated, instead of receiving proper treatment.

“It (mental illness) comes in so many shapes and forms. As long as a person gets the treatment, they can live a normal life,” said Parzio-Corso.

Contact Gillin-Schwartz at (609) 886-8600 Ext 24 or at:

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