By Anne Rood, NAMI Cobb Board Member
In this season of thanksgiving, I just want to thank the doctors, researchers and scientists and the divine inspiration that guided them for these new, sometimes more effective medications. You have no idea how many lives you have saved.
Mental illness impacts the lives of one in four adults. One in eleven adults has a serious mental illness. That’s over 60 million Americans struggling. Mental illness can range from mild to major depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Dual Diagnosis (meaning drug and/or alcohol issues in addition to other mental health issues), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and brain trauma.
But the good news is that recent new medications have been effective at giving lives back to the mentally ill, returning them to a more productive life. These medicines don’t work for everyone, but in some cases they do work wonders.
The real fight is to get a mentally ill person on the medication that will help them and then to remain on it. We must fight these barriers to improve the lives of the mentally ill.
Below are some of the possible barriers that block the mentally ill from getting better. While I am no doctor or expert, these are observations and results of talking with leaders in the mental illness community.
Possible Barrier: Stigma and the inability to accept that you are sick and should seek help. In this case, the person knows they might be ill but just refuses to seek help for fear of being labeled.
Possible Solution: Realize that for every four people you count, chances are one will be impacted by mental illness. You are not alone and mental illness is common. If nothing else, get initial advice from a psychiatrist.
Possible Barrier: Anosognosia – the "lack of insight" or "lack of awareness" that is believed to be the single largest reason why individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not take their medications. It is often a result of anatomical damage to the brain from flare-ups in illness, and possibly because of a break from reality. Tragically, this person is very ill and simply doesn’t know they are ill and doesn’t seek help.
Possible Solution: The person must rely on family members and friends to get them help. In some cases, the law can help you with involuntary commitment to a mental hospital.
Possible Barrier: Side effects of the medication. There can be weight gain, sleepiness, hunger issues and personal side effects that are unpleasant.
Possible Solution: At the end of the day, it is often better to live with these side effects than to live in misery. Side effects are getting fewer in more recent medications, and it is rare now to hear of tardive dyskinesia (permanent involuntary movements due to anti-psychotics).
Possible Barrier: Cost and the inability to afford better treatment, better doctors and better drugs. The newest anti-psychotics, even when on Medicare, cost $45-90 a month. Without Medicare or other insurance, they can cost $300 or more. These are just the newest drugs. Older drugs can be less expensive, however, it can be very important to get on the newer, sometimes more effective drugs.
Possible Solution: If you don’t have insurance, there are free drug programs offered by pharmaceutical companies for which you can apply. Try www.needymeds.com. Another option is getting on Social Security Disability to afford quality care. Getting the money for quality care often means getting better and longer treatments. Sometimes it takes more than one try to get on Social Security. Also consider starting a family fund to be proactive in saving for emergencies. Connect with some of the nonprofits that help the mentally ill get jobs.
Possible Barrier: Lack of quality care. Some psychiatrists and psychologists are just not as effective as others in helping you get on the road to recovery.
If you want to make a real difference in a mentally ill person’s life, encourage them to seek help from a local psychiatrist to get on the proper medication. There is no stronger way to help them but to get on medication. Research is beginning to show that in some cases mental illness is genetic and needs medical treatment just like juvenile diabetes or other physical ailments do.
One organization you can go to for help for the mentally ill and their families is called NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Cobb County has two NAMI groups, NAMI Cobb that meets near the Marietta Square and NAMI South Cobb that meets in Austell.
NAMI is the nation’s grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of the mentally ill. NAMI offers education, advocacy and support groups for the mentally ill and their families. Another organization is seek help from is Cobb CSB (Community Service Board), a government-run agency with day programs and medical appointments for the mentally ill.
NAMI Cobb has been around for years but is currently undergoing a revitalization. There are many exciting opportunities going on for the mentally ill and their families. We had Brian Stettin from the Treatment Advocacy Center near Washington D.C. speak to us about advocating for AOT (Assisted Outpatient Treatment) within our state. This month, we had an education session on how the CDC sees mental illness in our community and recent developments.
We currently have a Share and Care support group for caregivers in Woodstock. It meets the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month from 7-8:30pm at Hillside United Methodist Church, 4474 Towne Lake Parkway, Woodstock, Rooms 2210/2211 on the 2ndfloor.
We are seeking to expand to other areas of Cobb, including East Cobb. We are seeking volunteers to train to be leaders in our family support groups and support groups for the mentally ill. If you are interested, come get involved.
We also currently teach a Family-to-Family Class educating families on mental illness and it’s effects. The next class starts in January. See our website for more details, www.namicobb.com. NAMI Cobb has plans to do even more including a new website and trying to fund a paid position to meet with the mentally ill face to face to help with paperwork and guide them to resources.
Join us for our next NAMI Cobb educational meeting in January, the third Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at St. James' Episcopal Church near the Square, 161 Church St., Marietta. There will be no meeting in December. There is time to collect brochures and information starting at 7pm to help you before the meeting. For more information, go to www.namicobb.com.
Also, for a great video on Anosognosia, one of the leading causes of incompliance on medication, go to www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/problem/anosognosia or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj6ozlzA45o. The websites, www.nami.org and www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org are good websites for information on other mental illness issues too. Peachford Hospital, (770) 455-3200, and Ridgeview Institute, (770) 434-4567, are two of the hospitals for the mentall ill in our area.
Once again, thank you for helping to make better lives for the mentally ill. They need you!