The Effects of Mental Illness on our Society Today

February 16, 2014
Jefferson Oaks Behavioral Health Baton Rouge
Mental health is a major problem in this country. It often seems to be the "step-child" of more publicized medical issues and is pushed aside as 'not a primary concern'. However, when we look at the severe impact  mental illness has on our communities,  schools, workplaces, homes, even personal and community finances, we recognize that it is most certainly not a small issue.  Mental illness stretches beyond the old idea of schizophrenia and psychosis to include depression, anxiety, trauma, stress, substance abuse, suicidal/homicidal thoughts, anorexia and other self harming disorders. These issues have a significant impact on our society but often little attention in given to the actual disorders.  Many people are distracted by the unpleasant and uncomfortable societal symptoms of the illnesses and choose to look no further.   Therefore, the purpose of this first blog is to simply inform its readers of  the critical mental health issue in our country and to help expand our knowledge of the impact of mental illness. Most of us actually do have a limited and somewhat flawed view of mental illness, often based on silly or outrageous characters in books, movies, or television. However, usually mental illness is more subtle in its presentation than those characters depict. Many Americans experience feelings of stress and anxiety related to our work, school, finances, and relationships. This stress/anxiety/worry can exacerbate most medical problems. Often, we go for years without realizing that we are living with elevated stress levels.  We are much more focused on the "side effects" of the stress that we have adopted as normal for our lives.  These side effects may be gastro-intestinal issues, chronic pain, headaches, sleep disorders, or eating disorders, among others. Not surprisingly, each year antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications make the top ten most prescribed drugs list in America. An aspect of mental health that is often forgotten is substance abuse or addiction. Jefferson Oaks concurs with the manual for diagnosing mental illness (DSM-V) which acknowledges that mental health and addictions are related. Because of this current line of thinking, there has been tremendous progress made in policy, specifically the Mental Health Parity Act.  Despite this progress, there remains a serious, often skewed, judgment about a person who is a substance abuser. Television shows and movies often portray addiction with extreme characters like those on Breaking Bad  or COPS. However, the typical "addict" in America is no longer abusing illegal drugs, but is more likely to be abusing their own (legal) prescriptions. According to an article posted by the Betty Ford Center: " In 2009, seven million Americans reported current (within the past month) non- medical use of prescription drugs.  This is more than the number using cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens or inhalants combined.  - Click Here to see more.   We are experiencing a continuing rise of prescription pill abuse/dependency across demographics in the country.  Jefferson Oaks believes this is assuredly consequential to the major mental and emotional strain on our society. Another sad and major consequence of the mental health problem our country is facing, is suicide. In 2013, the CDC reported that in 2010 the rate of deaths by suicide had increased so significantly that it surpassed deaths by motor vehicle accidents. "Suicide deaths have surpassed deaths from motor vehicle crashes in recent years in the United States. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides. Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen substantially since 1999, according to a report in today’s CDC journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report". (CDC website May 2, 2013; http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr.) Having worked in the field of mental health for the past 10 years, suicide is an easy discussion for me to have with anyone.  Suicide awareness is something we consistently teach on to our staff, students, and interns.  Suicide is an extremely serious issue for our country. When we reflect that more people died as a result of suicide than motor vehicle accidents, we should stand up and become engaged in the discussion to raise awareness.  While unpleasant and less glaring than other top stories, the mental health condition of much of our population should be front page news.  We should be having  in depth discussions in a variety of forums --  in our homes, our schools, town hall and media agency -- about allocating resources to suicide prevention measures. It is quite evident however, that a majority of our society remains unaware of its prevalence. It's easy to understand that suicide is permanent to the victim and is emotional trauma to those left behind, but it also has a tremendous impact on our communities. Jefferson Oaks strives to have on-going, open dialogue with patients and community providers concerning monitoring and preventing suicide. Some of our patients are referred to us secondary to having suicidal thoughts or actions. Many times this can result in hospitalization in one of our area hospitals.  Unfortunately, Baton Rouge has a very  limited number of beds for psychiatry.  Therefore, a person requiring hospitalization  may be transported to a hospital a great distance from their home. This can be a very traumatic experience into mental health treatment for the patient and the family. Jefferson Oaks strives to be a safe treatment option for suicidal thoughts and prevention for suicidal actions. Our goal is to intervene before the depressed mood or mental health is so compromised that suicide becomes the only option in the mind of the patient.  We do this by providing a thorough assessment and a comprehensive review of appropriateness of treatment options and then linking the patient with the best treatment with the highest prognosis options....even if it is not Jefferson Oaks. Baton Rouge is quite limited in its options of mental health treatment facilities. There are very few hospital beds for adult psychiatry and even fewer for adolescents or children. The level of need is so severe that often  people have to travel, or be transported, out of Louisiana for treatment. It is vital that we begin to look at mental health as a medical condition that is just as important as any other "traditional"  illness.  Jefferson Oaks is proud to continue drawing awareness to Mental Health through our community outreach, advocacy, and participating as educators to those future and new mental health providers. We are happy to help expand the discussion of all areas of mental health, intervention, and treatment. We hope that this blog will serve as a means to highlight and update our community on these important issues. We hope to create a culture of awareness and acceptance of mental health issues; as well as an advancement in quality of treatment options in Louisiana. Brandy Klingman, LCSW COO