By: Ben Fagan Lynn University contributing writer Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
Research conducted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, or NAMI, indicates that one in five adults in America experience mental illness, and one in 25 adults in America deal with a serious mental illness.
This means that of the more than 1.4 million people living in Palm Beach County, there are about 280,000 people alone who are living with some form of mental illness.
“Mental illness is a disruption of emotion, behavior and cognition, which leads to impairment in social, occupational, and emotional or interpersonal functioning,” said Dr. Ashok Sharma, a psychiatrist at Fair Oaks Hospital in Delray Beach.
Mike Ramos, admissions manager at Fair Oaks Psychiatric Hospital, believes that one of the largest obstacles South Florida faces when dealing with mental illness is a societal problem.
“We are not a compliant society,” Ramos said. “When the person begins to feel well, they figure they are well and will go off their medication.”
This becomes a problem because, although an individual may be feeling well, after a period of time his or her symptoms will return and can put his or herself in harm’s way. For example, in the case of bipolar disorder, when a person gets off his medication and then starts it again, the individual will likely not be able to return to his highest level of function.
A larger issue at hand, beyond the frequent lack of compliance, is the lack of resources.
“Lack of resources impedes access to care, which leaves people ill, worsening their dysfunction,” Dr. Sharma said.
Both Ramos and Sharma believe that a combination of community support along with greater health care quality can assist in lessening the large issues when it comes to dealing with mental illness.
Dr. Sharma gives his top five tips to help people whose loved ones are dealing with mental illness:
- Show compassion – The person suffering is often blaming himself for the mental illness anyway.
- Educate and normalize – Offer to help your friend find assistance/treatment; remind he or she that they are not alone, that these are known entities with known treatments.
- Be persistent – People often feel that they should not seek help, or that they would be embarrassed to seek help.
- Don’t personalize – Often we mean well when we say, “I would do x” or “I had something like this,” but your friend may view your experience as a deterrent.
- Emphasize safety – for the people suffering, and for the people around them.
It is important to note that mental illness is not a character flaw. It should be seen and treated as any other illness.
“If you have cancer you get sympathy, but if you say my son has mental illness, people tend to shy away. It is a very different reaction,” Ramos said. “Just because someone has mental illness it is not the end of world. They can have a healthy and productive good life.”
For more information on mental illness, contact The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) at 561-588-3477, or go to namnipbc.org.
In the North end of the county, if a family member is in a mental health crisis and is in immediate risk, call Mobile Crisis at 561-383-5777 (Mobile Crisis Jerome Golden Center). Additionally, their main number is 561-383-8000. In the South end of the county, if the individual is in immediate risk, call Mobile Crisis at 561-495-0522, option 2 (Mobile Crisis South County Mental Health). The main number is 561-637-2102.