By Garry Hammond
People with mental illnesses are parents, coworkers, neighbors, students and friends. They are children and adults living with a diagnosis, but it doesn’t have to dominate their life; recovery is possible.
As we take part in National Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 2-8, Family Guidance is asking our community to consider that mental illnesses are medical illnesses, affecting all communities and all social classes.
Many of our community’s tough challenges – such as homelessness, substance abuse, unemployment and school dropouts — can be connected to undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, ranging from serious depression to bipolar syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The cost of untreated mental illness in our community is incredibly high. Thousands of dollars are spent on emergency room visits, hospitalizations and in lost productivity in the workplace related to mental illness. Many children and teens who struggle in school have undiagnosed conditions like severe depression, ADHD or mood disorders.
Diseases like severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are serious barriers to people who are also battling with homelessness. In fact, it’s been shown that people with forms of serious, persistent mental illness will live 25 years less than the rest of the population.
If you have a condition like heart disease or diabetes, you are likely taking steps for ongoing treatment so that you can maintain your quality of life.
It’s the same with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety or mood disorders. Many people in our community are unable to fulfill their roles as students, parents, coworkers or community leaders to the level they desire due to untreated mental disease.
Recovery is possible. Last year, Family Guidance served 1,635 consumers in its Addiction Treatment Services. We served almost 1,000 children in 50 schools across nine counties — keeping children out of expensive residential treatment programs in their own home and school. Family Guidance represents one of the few Community Mental Health Centers in the state whose work with adults with mental illness has reduced local homelessness rates by 82 percent.
Along with other partners, Family Guidance is part of a project that has resulted in cumulative savings of $1.25 million in Medicaid claims and reductions in hospitalization costs for patients with mental illness. The project is equating to around a $600 savings per patient, per month, on emergency room visits alone while improving their quality of life.
During National Mental Illness Awareness Week, we ask you to consider that the stigma associated with mental illness remains a major barrier for people who need help. Since 20 percent of Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, you likely live and work alongside many people with undiagnosed mental illness.
When we ask our consumers what their goals are, it’s very often the same as anyone else — to be the best kind of community member, parent, friend, student or coworker they can be. Family Guidance Center, and numerous other Community Mental Health Centers across our state, is asking you to consider this month that mental illness is often biologically based and calls for the same kind of diligence, education and multifaceted treatment as physical disorders.
Garry Hammond is president and CEO of Family Guidance Center for Behavioral Healthcare in St. Joseph.