Mental illness affects 1 out of 4 in WA

Sep 29, 2010, 2:57 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

Many tragic stories in the news recently have one thing in common – mental illness.

Family members say the West Seattle woman, who killed two granddaughters and son-in-law, and wounded her daughter before killing herself last week, had a history of depression and schizophrenia.

A Vancover woman admits she rubbed drain cleaner her own face. Bethany Storro’s mother says her daughter has “serious mental issues.” Storro is expected to plead not guilty when she faces a judge today for spending money people in the community raised for her when they thought she was the victim of a cruel acid attack.

We read about these kinds of stories often. Mental illness is more prevalent than you might think. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental disorders. One out of four people in Washington will develop a mental illness at some point in their lifetime, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services.

When you look at a broad range of mental disorders, including anxiety and depression, that rate goes up.

“As high as one in three people experience mental illness in the course of a year,” says Amnon Shoenfeld, director of King County Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services.

He’s worked with mentally ill people and their families for 30 years, and for a time was on the front lines of working with people who were involuntarily committed to institutions. He says there are still a lot of challenges to getting treatment. People are often not diagnosed properly, or diagnosed at all, by their family physicians.

MentalDisorderThere’s also a “huge stigma” about the disease. Some people don’t even believe there is such a thing as mental illness and view at as someone being “weak.” They think “people need to ‘buck it up’ and stop being depressed or just ignore these things.”

“They can’t see visibly the signs that are often there for people who have a physical illness,” says Shoenfeld. They can’t see mental illness, which is a chemical imbalance in the brain, although they see the symptoms and the behaviors associated with it.

It makes the headlines when someone who has a mental disorder commits a crime, but Shoenfeld says the majority of violent crimes in our country are committed by people who don’t have a mental condition.

He says, “People with mental disorders are much more likely to be victims of violence, rather than perpetrators.”

Mental illness warning signs

In adults:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse

In older children and pre-adolescents:

  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Prolonged negative mood
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In younger children:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety
  • Refusing to go to bed or school
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Shoenfeld says if you think someone you know has a mental problem, don’t ignore it. Would you tell someone with a broken arm, it’ll be okay, just deal with it? No. So if you’re concerned, have a conversation with them.

“You say, ‘I’m worried about you. This is what I’m seeing, and I think it would really help you to go see someone and see if there’s something else going on here,'” he advises.

The national health care law is a “breakthrough” for those who suffer from mental problems, he says. It provides coverage for mental illnesses just as a policy would cover physical ailments.

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Mental illness affects 1 out of 4 in WA