New Year’s Resolutions For Mental Health Advocates

New Year\’s Resolutions For Mental Health Advocates c. 2007
I am not big on New Year’s resolutions. If I need to change something, I change it. Doesn’t matter what time of year it is.
But to the mental health advocates out there, I offer you these New Year’s resolutions:

1. Do something for people who suffer dual-diagnosis. It is estimated that as many as half of the alcoholics and addicts out there suffer from another mental illness, the most common being depression and bipolar disorders. In order for these people to have a shot of recovery, both illnesses must be treated. A sober alcoholic is ripe for relapse if a major depression sets in. An alcoholic still out there is just fueling his depression with the booze, itself a depressant.

2. Organize support groups. There are hundreds of meetings every week in the area for alcoholics and addicts. Let’s have as many for people with depression or other mental illnesses. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has over 1,000 peer-operated support groups nationwide. Contact them. Arrange for meeting space in a church or a community center. Advertise at pharmacies, on buses, on the radio and in newspapers.

3. Educate the medical community. How many general practitioners are prescribing antidepressants without requiring a checkup within a month to find out whether the drug is even working? Here’s what the FDA says about it: “Adults being treated with antidepressant medications, particularly those being treated for depression, should be watched closely for worsening of depression and for increased suicidal thinking or behavior. Close watching may be especially important early in treatment, or when the dose is changed, either increased or decreased.”

4. Support one-stop shopping. A person in the throes of a major depression is not capable of making all kinds of phone calls to get help, find a doctor, find a therapist, or figure out bus routes or how to pay for meds. Partner with local hospitals, clinics, the health department and crisis lines so that sick people need only make one phone call.

5. Talk to each other. Create a listserv and invite physicians, clinicians, social workers, psychiatric nurse practitioners and substance abuse counselors to subscribe. Post meetings, interesting articles, concerns, questions and problems. It’s free, it’s easy and the information comes right to your e-mail address.

6. Understand men. A depressed man won’t necessarily exhibit the same symptoms as a woman. Men with depression often take risks, abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in other compulsive behaviors. The National Institute for Mental Health has a campaign, “Real Men, Real Depression.” Get involved in this campaign. Publicize the problem and the solution.

7. Educate the legal community. I spent 12 years in courtrooms writing stories about all kinds of crimes. Here’s what I saw: An incredible amount of mental illness and a tremendous amount of misunderstanding by judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and cops. The most prevalent mental illnesses I saw were alcoholism, addiction and depression. Why not send “The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous to those in the legal system so they can better understand these diseases and the treatment programs to which they routinely sentence folks? I heard one judge sentence a defendant to a 10-step program. Last time I checked, there were 12 steps.

8. Encourage therapy. For many of us, drugs and lifestyle changes are not enough. The FDA and the American Psychiatric Association recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for treating depression and other mental illnesses. Yet, many physicians are content to just write a scrip. Why not partner with local psychologists, social workers and nurse practitioners to find a way to provide and encourage this invaluable treatment. Better yet, go back to resolution number 2.

9. Fight the stigma. If you can, speak up when you hear a wisecrack about whether someone with a mental illness has taken their meds. Show compassion but don’t condescend. Say something when you see mental illness stereotyped on television or in the movies.

Do what you can. And have a happy new year.
c. 2007 Cox News Service
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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