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Taking taboo out of mental illness


January 23, 2013
Most of you who read my columns know that I tend to speak pretty candidly about the issues that face our nation. I am lucky in that I have a platform with which to voice my opinions and that I have an editor and publisher who, even though our opinions may differ, allow my voice to be heard.

That's not so in many professions.

I'd like to take this opportunity that has been afforded to me to continue to utilize my First Amendment rights.

Most of you have heard about the shootings in Newtown, Conn., at Sandy Hook Elementary School, early last month. If you haven't, please tell me where you went to get away from it, because it was, and remains, heartbreaking to see the coverage.

I'm not here to discuss whether officials are working to keep the details of the shooting under wraps. Whether they are or not doesn't change the reality that 26 people — 20 of them children age 7 or younger — had their lives cut terribly short in a vicious manner.

The Sandy Hook shootings are being used to push both pro- and anti-gun regulation, and that's not my intention.What I'd like to do is give my thoughts on the issue.

I'm like a lot of people, completely average. I don't own a firearm — though, thanks to my brother, I know how to handle one and enjoy time spent at the firing range — and I don't have a concealed carry permit. I'm not a member of the NRA, nor do I hunt. However, I don't begrudge those who are and do. It just doesn't happen to be where my interests lie.

As a completely average individual, it is not my belief that we should strip away a citizen's rights to protect themselves. Could I compromise and say that there needs to be a more effective screening process? Sure, but who decides that and where does it end?

We were ALL given the right to bear arms and it is a right that we must work to protect for the simple reason that we must not allow government to erode and infringe upon that which is laid down in the Constitution to be ours.

If we allow our Second Amendment right to be abolished, what is to keep our Fourth, Fifth, Sixth or Eighth Amendment rights from also being taken away? Don't know what those amendments hold? It is my humble suggestion that you look them up.

To me, there is a bigger problem at hand here and one that is decisively less controversial in nature, though no one is paying much attention to it. Mostly only in passing.

People kill people. It's very simple in saying, but why?

Has there ever been a "rational" murderer? No, they often plead insanity or mental illness and, for the most part, many are found to have some sort of mental illness or instability that has been left untreated or generally ignored.

Why is that? Why do people have to go to jail to receive proper mental health care?

Well, I have a guess.

People don't get evaluated and treated for mental illnesses in the United States because doing so carries a HUGE stigma. And, really, who wants to be an outcast?

The United States has one of the most comprehensive mental health care systems in the developed world, and it is vastly underutilized.

That underutilization is due largely to the stigma that is placed upon those who seek help and, according to the surgeon general's report released in 1999, the fact that seeing a mental health care professional is unaffordable or unattainable except for those with an elevated financial status. That is no longer the case.

In 2013, financial hardship won't keep most people from being qualified to receive adequate and professional mental health care.

Almost every university and college in the United States keeps a psychologist (most times more than one) on staff to make sure that all student needs are met. Why is that? Because, according to a study by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the college years are when many mental health disorders can begin to manifest and the cost for students is generally free or greatly reduced.

Many corporations also keep psychologists on staff for their employees and for consultation regarding company policies dealing with health care. Again, for the most part, the service is free or offered at a greatly-reduced cost for employees. In addition, hospitals and health care cooperatives often offer free and reduced-cost counseling sessions with their health care professionals.

Have you ever read your health insurance coverage? I'd be willing to bet that if you read closely enough, you'd find that some or all of the cost to see a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor is covered.

Mental illness could be anything from depression to an anxiety disorder to dissociative identity disorder, but the truth is — like most medical conditions — mental illnesses can take on many shapes and sizes.

However, no one gets scrutinized for going to the doctor for cancer, diabetes or the common cold.

So, if it's readily available — and obviously needed — why the disdain?

Just because someone is bipolar or suffers from depression or another of the many disorders doesn't mean that they they're going to be violent and hurt people. It seems that, as a society, we want to distance ourselves from labels while at the same time labeling others.

The real truth is that, as a nation, we aren't ready to look past each other's differences enough not to discriminate against one another, even if, at the end of the day, it could get people the help they need and ultimately save lives.

What a shame.

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  1. print email
    Mental illness treatment gap
    January 27, 2013 | 09:14 AM

    I agree there is some taboo preventing self-reporting or reporting one's child. What might the repurcussions be, insurance wise, or opportunity wise? Of course there hesitation to take that risk. However, many mentally ill adults do not recognize they need help, and in any event do not function well enough to find care or pay for it, for instance, applying for help, showing up for appointments, carrying a job to pay for it that will allow this time off.
    But care is simply not financially available for some children identified by parents and doctors to need expensive long-term treatment for mental illness. Here is a tragedy. Health insurance does not pay for about 4 days of residential treatment. It is private pay. The cost of residential care is $400-$2500 PER DAY. Most middle class families don't even gross that amount. If you are on Medicare, it is all good. But the same institutions are silent when you ask for help as private pay, they don't even offer it, and can't tell you anyone that does. BDDS (Medicaid waiver) rejects mentally ill kids from the medicaid waiver list in favor of physically and profound cognitive disabilities. Aspergers is simply not severe enough to be on the waiting list for help, applicants are routinely dismissed and allowed to appeal at their own expense. The schools acknowledge a problem but refuse to address it with their own budgets, they suspend the child. Ironically, schools chase down parents in title I schools to provide services that middle class moms beg for and don't receive. Schools are not accountable to actually spend the funds that children are entitled to on that child, many parents are unaware the school receives funding to help their child with Aspergers, for example.
    The only way a middle class parent can get residential care for a child is to abuse or neglect the child and report it (put the child in the foster care system) and hope the state will recognize and address the mental illness before they time out of the system, OR divorce, quit working, and apply for Medicare for their child. Ironically, this results in fewer taxes paid into the system. These are not good choices for parents or children, so most don't do either, and their child goes without the care they need. I feel so badly for Adam Lanza's family, because the parents seemed to face these same obstacles, and did the best they could with the resources available, and it ended in tragedy that the parents probably could have forseen, but could do nothing to stop.
    The new healthcare legislation does not address the above problem, either. In a catastrophic care situation requiring extended residential care for treatment of mental illness (to learn how to adapt to and function successfully in society), children who need help are entitled to care solely based upon their parents income (low being entitled). No surprise the kids shooting up schools typically come from the middle or upper middle class.

    RF
  2. print email
    School's role in treating mental illness
    January 28, 2013 | 08:02 AM

    Okay, schools. As a matter of fact, for the bulk of the day, you have charge of the children who eventually harm other children. We are seeing lots of increased security measures in the past month, but gun control and locked doors are not enough. The 9-11 terrorists were armed only with boxcutters. What are you doing to address these tragedies before the locked door, several years earlier, when you have charge of the kid? Identifying and addressing bullying is a start. How about shoring up staff to provide on-site counselling, daily if needed, to help troubled and awkward kids cope? Require teachers to be trained in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as part of their continuing ed. Have trained professionals work directly with these students one on one for part of the day, teaching social skills on the spot, demonstrating how to get along with people, to understand and sympathize with people, to negotiate a sometimes tough, cruel world that doesn't make sense to a teen. Have a full time occupational therapist in school, to allow time to address children with sensory issues in addition to physical challenges. Provide a sensory room, equip it well, and direct its use for students who need it. Getting along with people is a life skill more important than math. School is where we learn our social skills as children. It should not be passive instruction left to chance, especially for those who are challenged in this area.
    Schools, you are aware that ASD/ Aspergers is the highest funded student group, receiving twice the funding per student. Be accountable for the funding you receive. Actually spend all of the funds designated for kids with Aspergers and ASD on them, to prevent their anger and frustration from getting so high. Take the initiative and qualify students. The above services might be expensive, but you are already getting paid for it, every year, per student qualified as ASD. Stop telling the parents it is not your problem, or you don't have the funding, and spending the funds elsewhere. Take some responsibility. The lives you save may include your own, or those you love.
    So here is my challenge to schools. Assume you now have a student that, absent intervention, will one day conclude that his best option in life is to harm people in a school setting. What are you going to do for that student right now, a few years before, to help prevent that from happening. Think hard about it, spend at least as much time on the project as you would your school safety plan. Then identify target students that might benefit, and do it.

    RF
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