Erasing Stigma: Research reveals mental illnesses is common, treatable

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 5/29/2018, 12:17 p.m.
L.J. made three suicide attempts before age 16. But there was no official diagnosis of depression until his second attempt. ...
Stock photo Ryan McGuire

Special to The Dallas Examiner

L.J. made three suicide attempts before age 16. But there was no official diagnosis of depression until his second attempt. Before that, he was labeled with a behavioral disorder. After his diagnosis, he began the long journey of finding the right combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.

L.J. was among the over 1 million Texans who suffer from a mental illness, according to the Mental Health Committee established by the Texas Judicial Council.

In Dallas County in 2016, there were nearly 427,000 behavior health visits by patients with mental health or substance abuse issues, according to the DFW Hospital Council Foundation. Also, new research has shown that Black youth age 5 to 12 are twice as likely to commit suicide than White youth of the same age, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In contrast, when rates were grouped by sex, using all youth age groups, the rate of suicide in White youth was higher than Black youth.

Though suicide in youth is rare, it is the over-all leading cause of death in the United States.

Additionally more than 20 percent of Texas children ages 9 to 17 and nearly one in five adults in Texas experiences mental illness each year and have a diagnosed mental illness. Mental health experts at Parkland Health and Hospital System say that many mental illnesses, like physical health problems, are common, treatable and even preventable.

Recognizing the link between mental and physical health is crucial to overall wellness, a message mental health professionals are emphasizing this month, National Mental Health Awareness Month. The advocacy group Mental Health America selected this year’s theme Fitness#4Mind4Body to focus on what individuals can do to improve their fitness by making small changes, physically and mentally, to improve overall health.

“Taking good care of your body is part of an evidence-based approach to mental health. We know that people living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic health conditions and that a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of many mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems,” said Pedro Fernandez, MD, medical director of Consult-Liaison Psychiatry at Parkland and assistant professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

L.J. was encouraged to develop and maintain a daily routine that included eating healthy and exercise. As a teenager, his daily meals still fluctuated between healthy meals and fast food, but he did begin running on a daily basis. His mother reported a noticeable difference in his behavior and attitude, and was hopeful that his progress would continue.

“Much of what we do physically impacts us mentally, so it’s important to view mental health as a component of overall health and well-being. Eating healthy foods, managing stress, exercising and getting enough sleep can go a long way in improving your mental health as well as your physical fitness,” Fernandez said.

Research shows that people who are chronically stressed or depressed have a greater risk of physical illness. Exercise and good nutrition can have a significant impact on overall health and stress reduction by improving immunity, lowering blood pressure, preventing or aiding in management of diabetes and heart disease and boosting endorphins for improved mood and overall mental health.