The mental health facts of life

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” (MentalHealth.gov)

Many people will recognize one or two occasional symptoms of a mental health problem. But persistent early warning signs include: eating or sleeping too much or too little; withdrawal from people and/or usual activities; having low or no energy; feeling numb or like nothing matters; having unexplained aches and pains; feeling helpless or hopeless; smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual; feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared; yelling or fighting with family and friends; experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships; having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head; hearing voices or believing things that are not true; and thinking of harming yourself or others. This may lead to an inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school. (MentalHealth.gov)

The American Psychiatric Association states “Misconceptions and myths about mental health are unfortunately common. In any given year, one in five adults in the United States has a diagnosable mental disorder. One in 24 adults has a serious mental illness. One in 12 has a substance use disorder. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages. It is more common than homicide. People with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than those without a mental health disorder. In fact, those with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime˘Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of your age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. While mental illness can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illness begins by age 24.” (psychiatry.org)

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are about 49,000 adults and 13,000 children and adolescents under age 18 in Washington County. If the national incidence of mental illness applies locally, about 9,800 adults in the county have a diagnosable mental disorder, 2,000 have a serious mental illness, and 4,000 have a substance abuse disorder. Many, if not most, of these illnesses may have begun in childhood or adolescence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has computed an annualized death rate by suicide of 13.67 per 100,000 persons of all ages in Washington County from 2008 to 2014, higher than the overall 12.43 rate for Ohio. In the county population of 62,000, this equates to an average of about 8 completed suicides per year during that timeframe.

Fortunately there is hope for people with mental health problems. They can get better and many can recover completely, especially when effective treatments, services, and community support systems are available. Here “recovery” means the process of healing in which a mentally ill person becomes able to live, work, and participate fully in the family, workforce, and community. Nationally, fewer than 44% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and fewer than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. Friends and family support systems can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need. (MentalHealth.gov)

A 2015 study estimated that there is one mental health provider for every 1,426 residents in Washington County, about half the Ohio overall average of one for every 716 residents. The 2016 study estimated one for every 1302 residents of the county, with an Ohio overall average of one for every 640 residents. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, CountyHealthRankings.org) This improvement is welcome, but only 47 mental health providers were available in the county, yet 96 were needed to meet just the Ohio overall average. Since one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three-fourths of all mental illness begins by age 24 (psychiatry.org), the county needs more providers focused on prevention, treatment, and recovery of mental illness in children, adolescents, and young adults. More mental health services for these groups should reduce the need for services for adults later in life.

For assistance in obtaining mental health and addiction services, prospective consumers or their families and friends may contact the Washington County Behavioral Health Board office at 740-374-6990 during regular business hours, or dial 211 for an immediate response. If there is an emergency, always dial 911.

James Raney is a member of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears on the Opinion page on the last Saturday of the month.

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