Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mental Health Month

May is mental health month. There is even a day dedicated to children's mental health. The National Association for Mental Illness or NAMI has walks to promote mental health awareness and advocacy across the nation. There is no reason someone who thinks they may benefit from seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist should be so ashamed they put their well being on the line. No one is ashamed of seeing a doctor if they think they may have diabetes, or HIV, or heart disease, or even erectile dysfunction. There are TV ads out the wazoo about erectile dysfunction. Yet millions of people suffer in silence isolated in a fog of stigma that makes them feel damaged and not worthy of the things most of us take for granted. Children especially are caught in a quagmire of misconceptions about mental health. They are subject to what their parents have been told by other family members and friends. Parents may spend more time away from their work dealing with issues surrounding untreated mental health issues, such as school behavior problems than any other reason, yet they still are hesitant to seek out professional help. So are we to assume parents are just as plain ignorant when it comes to their kids mental well being? Maybe they just don't care, don't have the time or the resources? I prefer to think parents are victims of an industry that has been stigmatized in the media and culture as something that is uncontrollable and dangerous. There have been numerous issues with mental health care in the past, not the least of which is medication side effects. The use of seclusion and restraints, shock therapy and lobotomies have made mental health care seem gruesome and barbaric. Modern mental health treatment minimizes seclusion and restraint and I have not heard of a lobotomy in decades. Most parents agonize over the use of medications in their children. All parents should discuss side effects with their doctor and make an informed decision about using meds for any issue. But if we look at how skewed we are toward certain drugs as being safe, we can see the impact that advertising has on our cultural beliefs on medications. Take acetaminophen,the active ingredient in Tylenol. This drug is in most over the counter pain medications and cold, flu and allergy compounds. Acetaminophen is one of the most deadly drugs to overdose on. It kills the liver. The symptoms do not appear until the liver is already dying. Symptoms are flu like with nausea vomiting, etc. Yet this drug is still considered safe enough to have in every medicine cabinet in the country. I can hear you saying, "I only use ibuprophen." Guess what? If ibuprophen or Motrin is given routinely on an empty stomach is can eat away the lining of the stomach and result in a gastric bleed which can be life threatening. I am not advocating not using medications for illnesses and diseases! I am asking everyone who is considering seeking professional help with a mental health issue to weigh the issues.There have been many advances in psychiatric medications and research is continuing. Currently, people who are receiving medications in addition to therapy are living amongst us and contributing to society, instead of being locked up in institutions for their entire lives. They have families. They fall in love and experience joy and sorrow just like the rest of us. We need to ask certain questions when deciding to seek help for what may be a mental health issue. Is the risk or the POSSIBLE side effects of a recommended medicine so great they outweigh the struggle of the untreated mental health issue? Is it worth a frightening and unsuccessful school performance and damaged self esteem of your child? Is it worth job loss and repeated suicide attempts, continued substance abuse, less than positive interactions with law enforcement, fractured relationships,a life of despair? How much is clear focused thought, being comfortable in your skin and happiness worth? Think about it. Many very famous and successful people have handled mental health issues from depression to anxiety disorders. The ones we hear about are the ones who were too afraid or too proud to get help. They are the overdoses, single care accidents and panicked attempts to protect themselves from voices that are not real. We never hear about the lives saved and spent in peaceful recovery. Take a moment and do something for yourself. Check out the Mental Health America website. Then check out NAMI, and lastly check out Clarity Child Guidance Center in San Antonio. Really read the information these sites have. If you have questions, call the numbers given. If you or someone you know is struggling, take the time to help them. The best thing you can do is let them know you want to understand what they are dealing with.And that you don't think any differently about them than you did before. Then do your best to combat stigma against mental health and those who are dealing with it. Take a stand for the minds of America. Speak up and speak out.

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