SPRING HILL — It turns out that tough economic times not only hurt our pocketbooks, they're bad for our mental health, too.
Over the last six months, nearly a third of all adults admitted to the crisis-stabilization unit at BayCare Behavioral Health list the economy as the primary reason for their behavioral health issues, spokesperson Beth Hardy said Wednesday.
The results of a national survey, which coincides with October's annual Mental Health Awareness Week, echoes those findings. The survey found that unemployed people are four times more likely to report symptoms of severe mental illness.
Thirteen percent of those without jobs, the survey results show, have thought about hurting themselves, and they are twice as likely to report a concern with their mental health or use of drugs or alcohol.
Further complicating matters, nearly 50 percent of the unemployed respondents said they have had trouble getting health care insurance coverage.
"One in four of us will be affected by mental illness in our lifetime," said Darlene Linville, president of the Hernando County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The national group commissioned the study in collaboration with the Depression is Real Coalition.
"Stress for someone with mental illness is paramount," said Linville. "A life stressor can push them to a place they don't want to be."
And it isn't just the unemployed experiencing a spike in mental illness symptoms.
Those people who have had their work hours or pay reduced involuntarily were twice as likely to report symptoms of mental illness; they also were five times more apt to express feelings hopelessness.
All of these factors are exacerbated in Hernando County, which has struggled for more than a year with some of the highest unemployment rates in Florida.
Where can one go for help in Hernando County?
"The resources are fairly slim," said Sheriff Richard Nugent, who has worked closely with NAMI and other organizations to maximize resources. He also has continued to send deputies for crisis-intervention training.
For those in crisis, sometimes the beds at treatment centers are full and they must wait for services. "Our mental health services are in a crisis situation," said Linville.
For those not in crisis, early intervention is critical. And for those with health insurance, the path is easier. "That's the kicker," said Linville. "If you have insurance, you can pretty much go anywhere."
But for those without insurance, options are few, particularly for non-emergency behavioral care. The Health Department has some mental health services available on a sliding payment scale, said Jean Rags, the county's health and human services director.
NAMI and BayCare are also available to help match clients with available resources. NAMI offers a variety of educational and support programs, including family and peer support and educational groups.
BayCare also has support groups, many of which are free of charge. Topics include anger management, autism, veterans' support, and parenting, among others.
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Mental Health Awareness Week was established by Congress to raise public awareness of serious mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder.
On Sunday, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, NAMI is sponsoring a candlelight stroll. Participants should gather at the Beautiful Mind Center and the group will walk to the First United Methodist Church on Spring Hill Drive, where Pastor Bill McCloud will conduct an outdoor prayer service. Participants will return to the Beautiful Mind Center for refreshments.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.