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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

Adults with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year, the organization reports. In addition, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. More than 90 percent of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

In 2015, Parkland became the first health system in the nation to administer a universal suicide screening program to identify persons at risk in order to help save lives through early intervention. The program was designed to screen adults and youth 12 to 17 years old, regardless of their reason for seeking care. Since initiating the program, more than 2 million suicide risk screenings have been completed. In March, Parkland expanded the screenings to include patients age 10 and older. Parkland expects to complete more than 11,000 screenings for children ages 10 to 12 annually.

“We recognize that we have the opportunity to identify children and young adults coming to Parkland for other health services who may also need mental health services. By asking a few questions of every patient, regardless of why they come in for medical care, we can determine if there are reasons for concern and take steps to help,” said Kimberly Roaten, PhD, director of Quality for Safety, Education and Implementation in the department of Psychiatry at Parkland and associate professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Diabetes and other chronic diseases can lead to serious depression in some patients, setting up a vicious cycle between mental and physical problems, said Luigi Meneghini, MD, MBA, Executive Director of the Global Diabetes Program at Parkland and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s known that when people are depressed, they might exercise less, make less healthy food choices and engage in less healthy behaviors which can lead to weight gain, increase the risk of developing chronic conditions or worsen control of existing ones. For people with diabetes, depression may make it more challenging to stick to a diabetes management plan, which includes eating a healthy diet, exercising, monitoring blood glucose and taking medications. Effectively addressing depression can improve both mood and diabetes control.”

Fernandez emphasized that mental illness should not be stigmatized, any more than a physical ailment.

“There are many taboos and myths still surrounding mental illness, but through education we can erase the feelings of shame and fear that prevent many from seeking treatment,” he said. “If you have a mental health condition, you’re not alone. As with other illnesses, mental illness is not your fault. With proper treatment, symptoms can be dramatically reduced and many people with mental health conditions can and do succeed in leading active, fulfilling lives.”