Erasing the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

A quiet teen, Chelsea Proudfoot was mistakenly convinced she was being bullied by students at her new school. Jeers overlooked in middle school in Dublin, Ohio, were plaguing her in New Jersey – or so the freshman believed. And when she thought about not wanting to wake up, she thankfully told her mother.

“I had no idea what it was,” recalled Proudfoot, now a 21-year-old Toledo-area native living in Sylvania Township with her parents, Debbie and David Proudfoot.

“I wasn’t talking much to my parents, and I was just not myself anymore,” Proudfoot added. “I kind of alienated myself from most of my friends.”

national and local trends -- mental health_Chelsea Proudfoot-5Eventually, Proudfoot was diagnosed with depression likely caused by a chemical imbalance and genetics. These days, Proudfoot is getting mental health treatments, and the part-time chocolate shop employee is actively involved in supporting others through the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Toledo.

“I don’t think anybody should go it alone,” Proudfoot said. “That’s what a lot of teenagers and young adults are doing.”

Diagnosing Mental Health Issues

In Lucas County, which includes Toledo, 22% of adults were diagnosed with depression, up from 20% in 2007, according to the 2011 Lucas County Health Assessment. Of Lucas County residents diagnosed with depression, 57% were receiving treatment for it, according to the most recent report on health indicators among adults commissioned by Healthy Lucas County, a group with representatives from ProMedica, Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio and elsewhere.

Still, there is a stigma attached to depression and other mental health issues, including anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, those who have and treat such problems said.

Mental illnesses should not be treated any differently, however, than diabetes, cancer or other physical health problems, some of them added.

Overall, substance abuse is on the rise in the region among those who have severe and persistent mental illnesses, creating a dual diagnosis that needs treatment, said Agha Shahid, MD, medical director of psychiatric services at ProMedica Flower and Toledo Hospitals.

Foreclosures and unemployment are fueling depression, according to Dr. Shahid, who also is chairman of the psychiatric department at ProMedica Flower Hospital.

And, with the troubled economy, psychiatric units at both ProMedica Flower and ProMedica Toledo Hospitals are treating mentally ill patients who have lost their jobs, cannot afford treatment elsewhere, have no insurance, and are not getting medications, he said.

“If you have this diagnosis to begin with, and on top of that you have these economic problems, it’s aggravating it,” Dr. Shahid said.

Getting Help for Mental Health

Generally, an estimated 20% – 25% of the population has mental health issues, a rate that increases to about 30% in those who have close family members with depression, schizophrenia or other problems, said Jean Molitor, MD, staff psychiatrist at Harbor, a mental health provider based in Toledo.

“We always have to think about that when we look at how to treat these patients,” Dr. Molitor said.

Although Proudfoot’s parents and twin brother do not have mental health issues, other relatives do. Proudfoot is working with a therapist for depression, and she also is under the care of a psychiatrist trying to find the best antidepressant with the least side effects, she said.

“I have my ups and downs, but I know how to deal with it better,” Proudfoot said. “I know the signs and symptoms.”

For more information about the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Toledo, please visit www.namitoledo.org.

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