A Friday night sleep over at our home for our first grandchild, 22 months old, and his mother – our own first born. Saturday morning I’m watching him buzz around. I feel immensely happy until a worry crosses my mind. It is quickly replaced with gratitude that he is so healthy. I hope that he will stay this way. Twenty-plus years ago my niece was nowhere near as lucky. Something was clearly wrong with her non-responsive infant. Things didn’t change and after lots of phone calls between us and many trips to see specialists she accepted that he was severely autistic. Sadness washed over our family as we embraced her and him even more closely.
The vast majority of children, adolescents and adults we see in our practice are thankfully not nearly as impaired as my nephew. Still, many of them and their families struggle mightily to deal with the challenges they face. And of course they are not alone.
The sobering facts about the number of Americans affected by mental illness appears to be growing and are revealed in data released in 2013 by the National Institute of Mental Health and summarized in an article by the national Alliance of Mental Illness.
- One in four adults – approximately 61.5 million—experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
- Approximately 20% of youth 13 to 18 years of age experience severe mental illness in any given year.
- For ages 8 to 15 the estimate is 13%.
- 18.1% or nearly one of five adult Americans lives with one or more anxiety disorders.
- 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% have a severe mental illness.
Despite the availability of effective treatments, we continue to struggle as a nation to provide mental health services to individuals when they need it.
There are long delays – sometimes decades – between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help. 50% of all chronic mental health illness begins by the age of 14 and 75% by age 24.
WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Medical practitioners, educators, behavioral health specialists (social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed counselors) and others are on the front lines of this battle. Here are some things we can do to have a bigger impact on this problem.
1. Identify mental illness and substance abuse problems as early as possible. Those that come disguised as medical, educational, “behavioral” or family problems – or that accompanies these other problems are most likely to avoid our detection. Looking beyond obvious answers and probing more thoroughly are often necessary.
2. Help those who are reluctant to accept the possibility they or a loved one may have such a problem by providing them with compassion, education, reassurance, and hope about the benefits of early intervention along with an honest description of what can happen if they delay getting help.
3. Provide individuals and families with referrals to colleagues in other disciplines so we can offer them the full benefits of our professional community. You can also contact these professionals by sharing written information and talking by phone. At ADDapt we have found this collaboration valuable for the patients we assist and personally rewarding.
Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for listening and please feel free to share your thoughts with me on this topic.
Melhim, W. Restum Ph.D
Director of ADDapt