Unmasking Mental Health

The recent passing of comedian/actor Robin Williams once again reiterates the growing problem that seemingly is increasing and can no longer be ignored. Whether we are talking about the unspeakable mass killings we have witnessed in recent years, gang violence in our inner cities, the tragic suicides among not only celebrity actors/performers but also the countless number of individuals that take their lives due to depression, substance abuse  or social isolation is no longer an issue that can be ignored.

Much of our discussion on mental health is usually intense and probing right after an event occurs. Media and health care professionals take up the mission to initiate the dialogue to find solutions to the growing problems we see. but what is really being done. After every tragedy we reflect back on what could have been done. We see obvious signs and behavioral changes that raise red flags. So what is the problem. Is it a follow through issue? Are we not putting enough resources into a failed system of accountability and supervision?

One thing that seems clear it is predominantly a problem that features more males than females who are acting out against society or committing suicide. Whether we are examining young males going on shooting sprees, witnessing  the elevated use of mind altering drugs, and increasing use of physical violence to solve problems – the trend is clear.

What really needs to change is the dialogue. We as a society  – as individuals, family members, co-workers need to reinforce the idea that it is ok and healthy to talk about one’s concerns and problems. We need to become better listeners. We have to make it acceptable to feel safe to ask for help and then provide that system of support. Mental health issues primarily depression is running rampant in our society. The system strikes me as very incapable of handling the problems and providing solutions.

Depression and other illnesses such as bi-polar and personality disorders  have a hereditary element. As such, family history needs to be taken into account. Early signs such as social isolation, lethargy, substance abuse have to be dealt with. Difficult life events can also trigger emotional and  bio chemical changes that can lead to a cascade of declining mental health.

So what are we to do? I believe that there needs to be an integrated informational and educational system that provides resources to everyone – not just the folks who can afford it. Support groups that are well staffed  and well funded that can reach out and also provide a “safe” refuge for those who feel scared to come forward and help them understand they have options.

I also believe that treating depression and other mental illness requires alternative therapies: wellness and fitness programs that help to re- balance a person’s mind and body. Much research indicates that the brain can be changed. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s own ability to change and reset. Some of our veterans returning from war with PTSD and TBI are benefiting from such therapies. Thousands of young men and women are coming back  from war and unfortunately many have fallen through the cracks of the VA system. These individuals who put their own lives at risk to protect our freedoms really need our help and support. If we do not address this large problem soon we are going to have an epidemic crisis on our hands. Simply treating them with drugs just addresses the symptoms. Most drugs used to treat depression and bi-polar disorder have far reaching side effects.  I have seen it up close and personal.  We cannot turn our backs on these or any other individuals. Parents and teachers need to be the first  line of defense. Beyond that, it should be everyone’s duty and obligation to act if you see or sense that someone is in need. You never know, one day it could be you!!!

Stop talking and start acting !