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Step up for mental health this week

October 5, 2015
Estherville News

The first full week in October, this year the 4th-10th, is Mental Illness Awareness Week, sponsored nationwide by various organizations. It was established 25 years ago by Congress to increase awareness of mental illness. It's easy to dismiss mental illness as something that afflicts an unfortunate few. This does not line up with facts, however. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older experience a mental illness in any given year. This includes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness.

By creating awareness of mental illness, with its possible causes and its effect on families and loved ones, creating community discussion about mental illness is one way advocates are trying to put an end to the stigma of mental illness. It's only responsible to point out that in most cases, mental illness does not cause a sufferer to do anything violent. No matter the diagnosis, most people with mental illness are at more risk of being victims of violence than they are to commit acts of violence.

Unfortunately, this past week brought another school shooting, this time at a community college in Oregon. The circumstances of that shooting hit hard as Estherville is a similar small college town. The argument continues about whether better gun control would end, or at least reduce the rate of these tragic crimes, or if screening for mental illness would save lives.

It's worth continued investigation, and further action. The current mental health system is not set up for effective screening of possibly vulnerable individuals, nor to treat emergency situations. A patient who comes in with a dangerous spike in blood sugar or heart rate experiences the protocol from medical staff consistent with a life-threatening emergency, which is exactly what must happen to save the patient's life. A patient with severe depression or delusions, is often put on a waiting list for an appointment to even see a professional. Yet the waiting is just as life-threatening.

As researchers learn more about mental illnesses, we believe there must be more medical services and professional help for people with those illnesses, not less. If mental illness was treated the way other kinds of serious illnesses are treated, our communities would suffer fewer tragedies overall.



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