Mental Health: Something we all need!

Man Woman face people problem puzzleMental illness is something we’ve heard a lot about in the past several months. Unfortunately, we’ve heard more about the extreme problems than about the everyday occurrences of living with mental illness in our communities. Mass shootings that have been in the news recently have stirred the concern for safety from people who have a mental illness. What few of those discussions are addressing is the fact that everyone is impacted by mental illness in one way or another. Some have family members, some work or go to school with people who live with a mental illness. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), one in six people in the work place have received mental health services in the past year, or they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. And not all mental illnesses are created equal. Some are more severe than others. Two things need to be noted: People with mental illness are no more prone to violent behavior than any other sector of society, and recovery is possible for everyone with a mental illness, although the extent of that recovery varies from one individual to the next.
Currently, one in four adults (or 60 million Americans) lives with a mental disorder. That number includes people who are experiencing the effects of trauma in their lives, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety, phobias, depression and schizophrenia. Less than one third of these ever seek help for their conditions, primarily because of the stigma attached to mental illness. People often blame themselves or are blamed by others for being irresponsible, lazy, or too “needy”. But no one should be ashamed of something they could not prevent or did not cause. People boldly seek help for physical maladies, but are afraid to get help for the torment they experience in their own minds every day, even though evidence shows that people who get help experience a better quality of life for themselves and their families.
In the past, treatment for mental disorders has evolved from life-long commitment to prisons, then mass housing in asylums, to the adoption of the medical model for treatment. Many states have recently been sanctioned by the US Department of Justice for its lack of care for their citizens with mental illness. The response has been positive in many states, including Mississippi, which is about to launch total reform of their mental health care system. They will be replacing the medical model of care with a more comprehensive community-based system that allows the individual to have more control over their options for care. The Mississippi Department of Mental Health (MDMH) is adopting the definition of recovery used by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” The medical model that is currently used focuses on the treatment of symptoms, which creates a population of heavily-medicated individuals who have extreme difficulty in functioning and participating in mainstream life. The old model also is predicated on the doctor or professional being the ultimate authority on what is best for a particular patient, which makes many patients feel powerless, and prevents them from having any say in what happens to them during times when they cannot take care of themselves. Almost all mental conditions are episodic, which means during times when a person is feeling well, they should be able to work together with their mental healthcare providers on their future treatment. The medical model also rarely addresses the psycho-social impact of mental illness on the patient. Good mental health always includes opportunities to engage in social activities, make friends, and contribute to society in some way. The medical model does not factor in these vital elements of a person’s life… those things that people value as essential to a quality life experience. The new model will be person-directed, and service providers will be required to consider their patients’ life goals when devising a treatment plan for them.
These changes can be a real paradigm shift for mental healthcare providers around the state. “The service system and its practitioners have taken on some of the characteristics of the disorders they are expected to treat,” explains Aurora Baugh of MDMH, in a presentation she delivered to the state’s community mental health center directors in January of this year. She said mental health professionals are experiencing “denial, projection of blame, grandiosity, preoccupation with power and control.” The changes will require a change in how professionals think about mental health care, changing some of their practices used that reflect old attitudes, and aligning their policies with a more holistic approach to treating patients. It will take time, but the changes will be revolutionary for everyone who lives with mental illness or cares for someone who does. Feelings of powerlessness are debilitating even to people who have no serious mental problems. Empowerment and education are keys to improved quality of life and healthier communities for everyone.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental wellness is about life having a purpose – involvement in work and play, healthy relationships, good physical health and living environment. “Wellness integrates many dimensions of overall health and well-being, all of which are interconnected to an individual’s total well-being,” said Sonya Catchings, a program coordinator at the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi (MHA-SM). “It has a direct correlation to longevity and quality of life. People living with mental illness… experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. They may die years and even decades earlier than the general population.” MHA-SM is partnering with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) throughout the month of May to educate and promote the importance of wellness in everyone’s life, especially individuals living with mental illness. “We are committed to reducing the number of preventable deaths by sharing wellness tools to people along the Gulf Coast to insure a happy holistic life for all,” she said. Several events are planned, and all members of the community are welcomed to participate. You can contact Sonya for a schedule of events by calling (228) 864-6274 or emailing her at
In June, MHA-SM will once again host their ever-popular annual event, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Mon!” Bachelor and Bachelorette Auction on June 6th at IP Casino Resort Spa. Tickets are on sale now, and it is a fun way to support community mental health programs that improve the lives of so many on the MS Gulf Coast.

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