Why care about mental health?

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Parkland providers say there are millions of reasons

DALLAS – Mental illness can affect anyone at any time. Young, old, rich, poor, male, female, one in five of us will experience a mental health issue in any given year.

During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is pointing to the theme of this year’s observance: “Why care?” Mental health professionals at Parkland Health & Hospital System say there are millions of reasons why mental health matters deeply to them – and why the rest of us should also care:

• 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition.
• 1 in 17 adults in the U.S. lives with a serious mental illness.
• 60 million people in the U.S face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness.
• Nearly 1 million Texas adults have a serious mental illness.
• About 220,000 Texas veterans have a mental health condition.
• Each year, about one-half million children and adolescents in Texas experience a serious emotional disturbance.
• 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. Suicide is the 10thleading cause of death in the U.S., but suicide is preventable.

Mental health disorders include psychotic disorders like schizophrenia; mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder; personality disorders; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); substance use; anxiety and eating disorders, among others.

“In Dallas, we’re experiencing a behavioral health crisis,” said Celeste Johnson, DNP, APRN, PMH CNS, Vice President of Behavioral Health at Parkland. “North Texas has lost close to 500 inpatient psychiatric beds in the last year while at the same time area hospitals have seen a spike in patients with behavioral healthcare needs in our emergency rooms. These patients are the most vulnerable in our community, are primarily indigent and have no other resources.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Johnson said, providing appropriate care can change lives. “The best treatments for serious mental illnesses are highly effective. Between 70 and 90% of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with the right treatments and supports. These can include medications, therapy or counseling, and other treatment modalities that can help people lead healthier lives.”

For most people, a mental health condition isn’t the result of one event. Parkland lead psychologist Rebecca Corona, PhD, said, “Research suggests multiple, linking causes. Genetics, environment, biochemical processes and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. Stressful situations at home or work can make a person more susceptible, as do traumatic life events.”

Dr. Corona and a team of mental health counselors provide outpatient services to thousands of patients annually at Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers (COPC). Mental health counselor Litza Bodden, LPC, works with patients in Parkland’s women’s mental health program. Bodden says that helping women let go of the stigma of mental health issues and focus on self-care are important steps in therapy.

“More than 10% of women experience postpartum depression, which can range from sadness to severe depression,” Bodden said. “It’s vital for women and their partners, as well as other family members, to understand that asking for help from a mental health professional is okay. Mental illness should not be stigmatized, any more than a physical ailment. There are many taboos and myths still surrounding mental illness, but through education we can erase the feelings of shame and fear that prevent many women from seeking treatment.”

In 2015, Parkland became the first health system in the nation to administer a universal suicide screening program to identify persons at risk and help save lives through early intervention. The program screens not only adults but also youth, ages 10 to 17, regardless of their reason for seeking care. Since initiating the program, more than 2.3 million suicide risk screenings have been completed with patients in the Emergency Department, Urgent Care Center, inpatient units and COPC health centers.

According to Kimberly Roaten, PhD, Director of Quality for Safety, Education and Implementation, Department of Psychiatry at Parkland and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center, “There’s a myth that asking someone if they are thinking about hurting themselves will somehow make them feel worse or encourage them to hurt themselves. In fact, the opposite is true. Research has shown that asking kids and adults about suicide does not increase risk and instead lets the person know that you are concerned and may decrease risk. Understanding how someone is feeling is the best way to start helping.”

According to NAMI data, half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24, and early intervention programs can help. If you have a mental health condition, you’re not alone. As with other illnesses, mental illness is not your fault. With proper treatment, symptoms can be dramatically reduced and many people with mental health conditions can and do succeed in leading active, fulfilling lives.

Showing that you care is the first step toward helping someone with a mental health condition, Dr. Roaten said. “Most people who are depressed or suicidal will benefit from being asked about their feelings. By simply showing concern, we are probably saving lives.”

For more information about Parkland mental health services, visit www.parklandhospital.com.

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