Monday, October 15, 2007

Early treatment works for those with mental illnesses

By Ella Kaple
Guest Columnist

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Most importantly, mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

In addition to medication treatment, psychosocial treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, peer support groups, and other community services can also be components of a treatment plan and that assist with recovery.

In Crawford County, those services are provided each day by Community Counseling Services, Inc., and funded by the Crawford-Marion Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services. Last year alone, over 4,000 individuals received services from our system of care.

Here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:

Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through "will power" and are not related to a person's "character" or intelligence.

Mental disorders fall along a continuum of severity. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion -- about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans -- who suffer from a serious mental illness. It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 families in America.

Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.

Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives.

The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.

With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.

Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.

Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.

According to the president's New Freedom Commission on Mental Illness, the annual cost of untreated mental illness is $70 billion in the United States. Untreated depression alone costs the nation a staggering $40 billion a year. While anyone who's ever suffered from a mental illness, or had a family member of friend suffer from a mental illness, can easily understand the human cost of untreated mental illnesses, there is also strong evidence for the financial tolls involved. Recent research indicates that mental health treatment can more than pay for itself through sustaining a healthy workforce -- enhancing what can be viewed as "human capital."

Here are some startling facts:

Approximately 50 percent of students with a mental illness aged 14 or older drop out of high school. This is the highest dropout rate of any disability group.

Twenty-four percent of state prisons and 21 percent of local jail inmates have a recent history of a mental disorder.

An estimated 65 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls in juvenile detention have at least one diagnosable mental disorder.

Between 2000 and 2003, emergency department visits with a primary diagnosis of mental illness increased at four times the rate of other emergency department visits.
We know that treatment outcomes for people with even the most serious mental illnesses are comparable to outcomes for well-established general medical or surgical treatments for other chronic diseases. Early treatment success rates for mental illnesses are 60 to 80 percent. This is well above the estimated 40 to 60 percent success rates for common surgical treatments for heart disease.

As a nurse who has worked with individuals with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders and as a long time member of the Crawford-Marion ADAMH Board, I know that treatment works and that people recover. Recovering people work. Working people pay taxes. Investing in good mental health services is an investment in our community.

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