May 27, 2018
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Finding relief for ‘beautiful minds’

By Bill Wypyski, Special to the BDN

What you think about mental illness determines if you will seek treatment when it is most effective: early on. Since May is Mental Health Month this is a good time to address this concept.

I learned many years ago in undergraduate school that illnesses like schizophrenia, a health disorder that causes false sensory perceptions, was a “progressively debilitating disorder,” meaning it got worse over time.

Not very hopeful.

The common belief that people with mental illness don’t get better is a strong barrier to seeking services when they are most beneficial, early in the illness.

Thanks to advances in treatment, most people with mental illness do achieve significant improvement in their lives. Recovery is now the theme discussed as the outcome from treatment. Recovery is about inspiration, hope and spirit. Talking about recovery can help inspire others. Recovery is the reason to seek out treatment.

What is ironic is that new studies estimate that almost half of us will receive mental health services in our lives. About one in five of us will receive a mental health diagnosis.

That means either you or someone you love and care about is getting, or is in need of, mental health care. Health, mental and physical, is something we should all respect and covet. We should encourage those we care about to do what ever they can to take care of their health.

Long-term research studies, some over 30-year periods, predict that 50 percent to 70 percent of people living with a mental illness will achieve significant improvement in their lives. In recognition of this new understanding, William Anthony, Ph.D., executive director of the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, called the last decade the “Decade of Recovery.”

“Recovery” has different meanings to different people. Most definitions can be placed in one of two groups: clinical recovery and social recovery. There is strong evidence for both. Clinical recovery is possible when all

symptoms of the mental health disorder cease to exist. Social recovery appears when the symptoms of the illness may still be present, but the individual is able to function and maintain control over his or her life.

You may have seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” where John Nash fell deep into mental illness and experienced hallucinations and delusions. But later, despite maintaining some symptoms, Nash regained and

maintained his role as a father, husband, teacher, friend, and Nobel Prize winner.

Care providers such as physicians, nurses, and other clinical staff support persons with psychiatric conditions in determining what tools and supports are needed to help them achieve the life they seek.

Recovery is about the relief of unnecessary pain and suffering, developing a hopeful sense of the future, and living a purposeful to life. Recovery-oriented mental health systems are a relatively new shift in services. They focus on the life of the person, not just the presence of an illness.

The start to recovery lies in the person affected seeing the opportunity to grow, not just exist with the illness. Recovery never flourishes when the individual is busy recalibrating expectations to lower possibilities because

of loss.

The message of recovery is important.

A large number of us will not seek mental health care although in distress. Why? Studies show that most avoid mental health care due to concerns over stigma. Stigma or fear that the illness robs value from a person in the eyes

of others. Fear that a diagnosis of mental illness means your life is over. That recovery can’t happen.

The message of hope and recovery combats this barrier. It is something everyone should know about.

Relieving pain and suffering, achieving a life of meaning and value — these are the outcomes people should expect when faced with a mental illness.

Bill Wypyski is vice president and chief of clinical operations at The Acadia Hospital in Bangor.

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