People accept the fact that physical illnesses others get are often not their fault, even when they have led life-styles that obviously contribute to the diseases. But many people still attach a stigma to individuals who have mental illness.
There seems to be something, particularly in the American psyche, that the mentally ill should be able to overcome or get over it without assistance.
But mental illness is a disease as real as a cold, the flu, heart failure or cancer. And like other diseases, mental illness does not always have obvious symptoms, but can be insidious.
A recent study commissioned by the World Health Organization and the Global Bank entitled the Global Burden of Disease Determined that mental disorders represent four out of the 10 leading causes of disability for people older than five years of age.
The study indicated that, in developed nations, major depression is the leading mental disability. Manic-depressive illnesses, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorders are also high on the lists in the developed countries, including the United States.
While mental illnesses cause misery to patients and families, the diseases are also a leading cause of death due to suicide. In Utah, mental disorders are responsible for one of the largest segments of preventable death in the state.
In many ways, mental disorders are more destructive to individuals, families and society than chronic physical diseases. The illnesses often strike early in life and affect relationships and work productivity. The suffering that accompanies mental disorders is frequently immeasurable.
Almost all mental disease is treatable with therapy, pharmaceuticals or a combination of the two. But many people remain untreated, even when they or their loved ones realize there is a problem. That is largely because of the stigma attached to mental disease, notes the U.S. Surgeon General.
Many people do not understand the terms professionals use to describe a disorder. Mental illnesses include:
Depression involves spectrum of affective disorders, ranging from passing sad moods to serious, crippling disease requiring medical treatment. Major depression is a whole body disorder, impacting the patient's emotions (feelings of guilt and hopelessness or loss of pleasure in once enjoyed activities), thinking (persistent thoughts of death or suicide; difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions), behavior (changes in sleep patterns, appetite or weight) and even physical well-being (persistent symptoms like headaches or digestive disorders that do not respond to treatment).
Sometimes referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a serious affective illness, typically beginning in adolescence or early adulthood. Individuals with the disorder experience dramatic swings between manic highs and depressed lows which alternate with periods of their normal mood. A person with bipolar disorder may feel extremely excited with seemingly boundless energy, then suddenly feel bitterly sad and depressed.
Obsessive-compulsive illnesses are potentially disabling anxiety disorders in which individuals become entrapped in repetitive patterns of thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions )that are senseless, distressing and extremely difficult to overcome.
Schizophrenia is a complex and severe mental disorder. The disease is thought to be caused by imbalances in brain chemistry, which results in abnormal thinking and behavior, including hallucinations, delusions, social withdrawal, distorted thought processes and inappropriate or blunted emotional expression.
The stigma attached to mental illness prevents many people from admitting they or family members are afflicted. But barriers are breaking down, in no small part due to the efforts of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
The Utah chapter of NAMI is no less active than the national organization. The Utah chapter offers a multitude of services for the people who need help. The grassroots organization was started by families with members who had a mental illness. NAMI offers education, support and advocacy for individuals afflicted with mental illness as well as the loved ones of the individuals.
Probably some of the most important services the alliance offers are the education programs.
The programs include BRIDGES (Building Recovery of Individual Dreams and Goals through Education and Support), Hope for Tomorrow and NAMI Family to Family Education.
BRIDGES is for individuals with a mental illness. It is a 14-week course taught by people who understand mental illness the best, individuals who have dealt with it. It empowers people with mental illness to pick up the tools for recovery.
The Hope for Tomorrow program is for schools and it is intended to help not only students, but parents, teachers and administrators as well.
The fact is that 13 percent of American children suffer from mental disorders, but 70 percent of those receive no treatment for their problems.
The program helps to dispel myths about mental illness with a general program and then it goes into such childhood and adolescence problems as eating disorders and substance abuse. The program includes a teacher inservice, a parent/community forum and student assemblies and forums, too.
The third program, the NAMI Family to Family Education course, works with the families of those who have severe brain disorders.
It is a 12 week course and concentrates on schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, clinical depression, panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
It teaches skills and advocacy skills for family members so they can better deal with the problems that arise when someone close to them has mental illness.
For additional information on the organization's programs, Carbon County residents may visit NAMI's website at www.namiut.org.
Carbon County residents may also call the local contact person for the organization, Lynette Tucker, at (435) 653-2739.