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Guest column | Judy Thompson

Mental illness needs to be understood, not feared

My husband and I spoke to the Hernando County Commission in January regarding the site and approval of the Westbridge treatment facility on Grove Road. I can't tell you how upset we were with the impression that the public has of a person with mental illness. Stigma is alive and well in Hernando County.

I am on the board for our local affiliate of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or NAMI. All of my facts, figures and people named here are on the Web site or have published their own books on how they have dealt with their own illness.

In response to what we heard, I would like to offer some facts on mental illness and encourage the public to go to the Web site and learn about mental illness.

One in every four adults will experience a mental health disorder in any given year. That is 57.7 million Americans. One in 17 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, and about one in 10 children has a serious mental or emotional disorder. Bipolar disorder affects 2.6 percent of the adult population, or 5.7 million Americans. Major depressive disorder affects 6.7 percent of adults, or about 14.8 million American adults.

An estimated 5.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders. Most admit that they start using street drugs to self-medicate for their disorders.

Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24. More than 50 percent of students with a mental disorder age 14 or older drop out of high school.

One in every five returning vets will have mental health needs. Vets are twice as likely to commit suicide than men in the general population.

Yet, with good health care and support, 90 percent of all individuals will recover — not be cured, but recover — to live productive lives. Many will be able to attain higher-education degrees and become leaders in their fields. Their illnesses often remain unknown to us. Who would want the stigma that was expressed in our county chambers?

Brain disorders do cause problems in thinking, hearing, seeing, decisionmaking, ability to focus and sleeping, and may be expressed in depression or mania. None of these behaviors in and of themselves will cause crimes. Think of those you know — it is likely that someone you know or live with may have these behaviors.

People whom the community on Grove Road would not want in their neighborhood might have included broadcast journalist Mike Wallace, baseball player Luther Wright, musician Thelonious Monk, Abraham Lincoln and his wife, football player Lionel Aldridge, Christian author Ruth Graham, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Olympic gold metal skater Dorothy Hamill, Patty Duke, Jimmy Piersall, Kitty Dukakis, Ted Turner, Bette Milder, Drew Carey, Emily Dickinson, Robert Burns, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter and Dick Cavett. The list goes on.

Many more individuals we know have had mental illness in their lives. I would not hesitate to have any of them come to our county to find the ability to live well and for those still with us, to continue to be a blessing to us all.

Anyone who knows or believes that they may have a relative or a close friend with these behaviors, whether diagnosed or suspected, I urge you to take the NAMI Family 2 Family course. Come and learn about these brain disorders, the treatment, medications, and path to wellness for families and friends to help their loved ones achieve, along with good treatment.

The class is free. It is taught one night a week for 12 weeks, and is offered several times a year here in Hernando County. For information, call (352) 544-0352.

Judy Thompson, along with her husband, Bill, are Family 2 Family instructors.

Mental illness needs to be understood, not feared 02/08/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 8, 2009 6:47pm]
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