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Mental Health Month

May was Mental Health Month and I wanted to try and write something positive for a change. Mental Health is obviously near and dear to me because I work with the mentally ill, suffer from severe anxiety myself, and have had a lot of people I care about suffer from various disorders. According to NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), 22.1% of adults suffer from some sort of mental illness. While this is a scary thing, it is also reported that 70%-90% of people with severe symptoms can live a normal life with the appropriate treatment. Luckily we have a vastly improved mental health system today than we had even 10 years ago. One major thing that still needs to change is the stigma related to Mental Illness.

Most people think that I have a dangerous job when I say that I will occasionally work alone in a house with 14 mentally ill people. I have to stress that I have worked in my position for 3 years and I have been afraid twice, I have gotten afraid more times while working at the A&P. Where I work, we do not do restraints, physical or chemical, and we have no need to. If you met most of clients, it would take you a little while to even notice that there was something different about them. My clients are intelligent and talented individuals that are just trying to live their lives the best way they can. My job is to teach these people how to live with their illness and along the way they have taught me many things. I went into my job never working with the mentally and I did not know what to expect. I learned quite quickly that the people I work with are no different from me. Anyone can get sick at any time.

I have had my bouts with my own mental illness as well. I have even had a few diagnoses including Poly Substance Abuse (which was a misdiagnosis, it should have been Cocaine Dependence but whatever), General Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Cocaine Induced Anxiety Disorder. They kept changing it all the time and I am of the belief that a specific diagnosis doesn't matter, people should be treated based on their symptoms, not the title of their disease. I went through therapy, rehab, and psychiatrists and occasionally things clicked. I am no longer an active user of cocaine, I have 7 years clean from that drug, but I will always be a cocaine addict. To this day I get urges to use and I know they will never completely go away but it gets easier and easier. For quite a long time I was able to maintain my anxiety without taking prescription drugs like Zoloft and Paxil but lately my anxiety has been returning. I am dealing with it but I certainly have my moments where my anxiety gets the best of me and I become paranoid. When I get in this state I no longer realize that my anxiety has taken over and I am most likely interpreting things incorrectly. I say and do things that are perfectly reasonable for what I think is happening but unfortunately I am almost always wrong in what I believe to be taking place. It's very scary and embarrassing when I relax and look back at what took place. But I have to add that this is rare for me because I almost always recognize my anxiety for what it is and don't allow myself to think that there is an outside cause to how I am feeling. A common misconception about people with mental illness is that they don't know they're sick, that "insane" people don't know they're "insane." First of all, I hate the word insane; second, the mentally ill are usually aware that they are sick. Someone experiencing delusions will often times know that what they are hearing and seeing is not real. Occasionally people will become very symptomatic and they will think that their delusions are real but this is very rare. I also have to add that it is difficult to watch someone try to struggle with what their mind is telling them. Imagine seeing something, clear as day, and knowing deep down, it wasn't there. It's a hard battle to fight. On many occasions my clients have come to me and flat out said "I am having symptoms, I think that such and such is happening and it isn't."

Yet another misconception is that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities. That's just wrong. There is a diagnosis of Multiple Personalities and it is used only on very rare occasions and most mental health professionals doubt it truly exists (I happen to be one of them). Schizophrenics suffer delusions; that doesn't mean they all hear voices, delusions can be auditory, visual, or even in thought patterns. A schizophrenic may have no hallucinations; they just have difficulty forming thought patterns that would be defined as "normal". Schizophrenia also isn't the only illness that can have delusions or hallucinations associated with it. Bi-Polar and OCD can have psychotic symptoms such as these. There are also many illnesses out there in addition to the widely known schizophrenia, Bi-Polar, OCD, and Major Depressive Disorder. There's Dysthymic Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizoaffective, many more. I would love nothing more than to explain the symptoms of some widely unknown illnesses but it would take forever so anyone who is interested can learn about them by visiting

Luckily we have so many medications on the market today that are effective and lack the severe side effects that ran rampant in the generations of drugs that we used in the past. Tardive dyskinesia, severe sedation, and ineffectiveness are rarely seen now. We even have a medication called Cogentin that is used purely to lessen side effects. We have miracle drugs like Clozaril that have saved people who have been in state hospitals for years. Haldol and Thorazine are so rarely used now because the new meds actually treat symptoms rather than just sedate someone to the point where they no longer act "crazy."

I wrote this in hopes that it could change someone's mind about the mentally ill. I see how my clients are stared at when they are obviously unkempt, I know how often the people who live around where I work call and complain about "The Crazy People" and it breaks my heart. The mentally ill aren't anymore dangerous than anyone else. They deserve to be treated just like everyone else. They aren't scary, stupid, or unaware of how they are regarded by some people. I wish everyone could have the chance to meet some of the people I have had the opportunity to get to know through my job and I consider it to have been an honor to work with every single client that has come through my unit.

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