BARB DAHLEN: Mental illness crisis desperately needs solutionsNAMI North Dakota, the North Dakota branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is an organization of individuals and families whose lives have been affected by mental illness.
By: Barb Dahlen, Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS — NAMI North Dakota, the North Dakota branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is an organization of individuals and families whose lives have been affected by mental illness.
We extend our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the families who lost their loved ones and/or were traumatized by the recent tragedies.
Our members know firsthand the challenges faced by both individuals and families affected by serious mental illness. Distance does not reduce the loss felt here as a result of the shootings in Connecticut, which ended the lives of 20 young children and six adults.
The news stories since the shooting have been hard for NAMI families. Many of them have family members who live with and struggle to manage mental illness each day; many also live with the fear and stigma that comes with a diagnosis.
It’s time to bring the issue of mental illness and the lack of appropriate treatment, services and support to national attention.
We talk about health care reform, but it does not begin to touch the thousands of people in our community who are on waitlists. They’re waiting for mental health evaluations, treatment, housing, employment and other resources.
Nor does it touch the need for public education and support for caretakers.
Newtown, Conn., had no more guns on the day of the shooting than the community had had for the past 10 years. Guns and access to guns are not the only issue! Many mothers, including Nancy Lanza, suffer in silent desperation as they wonder what to do with their children who have mental illness, emotional problems or some other brain disorder that threatens their safety and the safety of others.
Our society is looking for blame when we should be looking for solutions. But this event will pass by as have all the others (such as Virginia Tech, Aurora and Columbine), leaving parents, families and those living with the symptoms of mental illness with no significant changes in the mental health system.
Who is willing to help our parents and families before crisis strikes? Sadly, too often it is the prison or jail system that becomes involved.
We all know that there are families impacted by mental illness who need help. We also know that mental illness is real — and that most important, people with a brain disorder or mental-illness diagnosis are not evil and villainous criminals.
When any illness is not treated, it gets worse; it’s the same with mental illness.
In 2006 and 2009, NAMI gave each state a grade in Mental Health Care, North Dakota got an F in 2006 and improved to a D in 2009.
Affordable housing was just one of many issues found lacking at that time — and we all know that housing in North Dakota now is less affordable than ever.
Mental illness is manageable. People can get treatment and live successful lives. It doesn’t have to end in tragedy.
Unfortunately, many cannot afford treatment or the transportation costs.
Furthermore, the Medicaid system for without children requires that a person is determined “disabled” by the Social Security Administration — and even after that, Medicaid care depends on a person’s income.
It can take well over two years to get through the red tape and appeals in the Social Security system. Meanwhile, how does one pay for health care and medication? In addition, the stress from money issues can increase the severity of the symptoms.
Serious mental illness affects one in four Americans in any given year. Whether we want to admit it or not, mental illness is part of our neighborhoods, schools, churches and places of employment.
It is an invisible disability. As you sit at your table in any restaurant, look around. At least one in seven in the crowded room has a mental illness. Can you tell who they are? I can’t.
Let’s advocate for policies that will protect our families, support individuals and families living with mental illness and educate the public on what mental illness is and is not.
Dahlen is president of NAMI North Dakota.