KLEAN TALK: Addressing mental illness as a key to recovery

June 16, 2014

By KLEAN treatment center, West Hollywood, California

Tony went from rehab to rehab to recovery house to recovery house. The time in between was punctuated by drug use – anything he could afford, find or earn through prostitution.

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It turns out that Tony wasn’t really an addict; he abused drugs to self-medicate his manic-depressive disorder.

All those three-day stays in the psych ward, all those attempts at intervention and those weeks spent in recovery houses and months in jail had only done one thing – leave him open to danger, or even death, because of his need to medicate himself with whatever he could find to make himself feel different than he did when sober.

Most recovery or drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers focus almost wholly on the –ism or the abuse of drugs without paying adequate attention to the mental illnesses that underlie a large proportion of addicts/abusers.

The nation’s Center for Disease Control says, “The economic burden of mental illness in the United States is substantial—about $300 billion in 2002. Mental illness is also associated with chronic medical diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Mental illness surveillance is a critically important part of disease prevention and control.”

mindbodyMental illness refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders. Effects of the illness include sustained abnormal alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress and impaired functioning.

The effects of mental illnesses include disruptions of daily function; incapacitating personal, social, and occupational impairment; and premature death. The most common mental illnesses in adults are anxiety and mood disorders.

How widespread is mental illness?

According to the World Health Organization, mental illness results in more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. Other published studies report that about 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.

Drugs and mental illness make a combustible and unpredictable combination. Photo courtesy  Treatment4addiction.com

Drugs and mental illness make a combustible and unpredictable combination, sometimes leading to gun play and death. Photo courtesy Treatment4addiction.com

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has just released the newest data that pinpoints mental illness state-by-state.

This is the most current data and based on information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). One thing that was certain, from the evidence presented is that mental illness continues to be a nationwide public health concern.

There are two tiers to mental illness, the “serious mental illness” (SMI) and the “Any mental illness” (AMI) categories.

The first, SMI sufferers, see impairment in mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders but the impairment is extreme and significantly interrupts their daily lives. Normally, 100 percent of SMI sufferers need daily help to function, although fewer than 63 percent will actually receive any kind of formal treatment.

Nearly four percent of the U.S. population suffers from a SMI. As expected, the number of AMI sufferers is much higher, over 18 percent.

Because of the vast problem with many ramifications for lives rent asunder, The CDC has begun relying on public health surveillance, the ongoing and systematic collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of data used to develop public health interventions that reduce morbidity and mortality and improve health.

Surveillance for a particular condition—such as mental illness—might depend either on collecting new data or using data obtained from existing health information systems.

West Hollywood has an economy based in large part on the sale and overconsumption of alcohol. Some say it's only right that WeHo also lead the way in recovery from addiction since its economy fosters it.

West Hollywood has an economy based in large part on the sale and overconsumption of alcohol. Some say it’s only right that WeHo also lead the way in recovery from addiction since its economy fosters it.

Why is monitoring mental illness important?

Surveillance activities that monitor mental illness are essential because mental illness is a significant public health problem.

For example, according to the World Health Organization, mental illnesses account for more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease;

  • about 25 percent of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime;
  • mental illness is associated with increased occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and cancer;
  • mental illness is associated with lower use of medical care, reduced adherence to treatment therapies for chronic diseases, and higher risks of adverse health outcomes; published studies report that:
The mind controls all bodily functions; drug use and abuse work together with mental illness to keep a person off balance.

The mind controls all bodily functions; drug use and abuse work together with mental illness to keep a person off balance.

  • mental illness is associated with use of tobacco products and abuse of alcohol;
  • rates for both intentional (e.g., homicide, suicide) and unintentional (e.g., motor vehicle) injuries are 2 to 6 times higher among people with a mental illness than in the population overall;
  • population-based surveys and surveillance systems provide much of the evidence needed to guide effective mental health promotion, mental illness prevention, and treatment programs;
  • monitoring mental illness is an important way to provide appropriate organizations the data they need to assess the need for mental and behavioral health services and to inform the provision of those services;
  • many mental illnesses can be managed successfully, and increasing access to and use of mental health treatment services could substantially reduce the associated morbidity;
  • many chronic illnesses are associated with mental illnesses, and it’s been shown that treatment of mental illnesses associated with chronic diseases can reduce the effects of both and support better outcomes; and
  • CDC surveillance systems provide several types of mental health information, such as estimates of the prevalence of diagnosed mental illness from self-report or recorded diagnosis, estimates of the prevalence of symptoms associated with mental illness, and estimates of the effect of mental illness on health and well-being.

The authors of this report note that, currently, no surveillance efforts at the national or state level are directed toward documenting anxiety disorders. However, anxiety disorders are as common in the population as depression. Moreover, anxiety disorders have similar characteristics to depression in that they:

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  • can impose as much impairment as depression,
  • are also related to the stress response system of the body,
  • have health impact similar to depression, and
  • are often found to coexist with the same chronic medical conditions found in those who suffer from depression.

The authors stress the importance of initiating national-level anxiety disorder surveillance activities to help guide public health policy.

They also call for anxiety disorder surveillance to be conducted at the state and local levels so that public health services addressing this condition can be designed, implemented, and evaluated.

Mental illness, especially undiagnosed and untreated, lies behind many of society's ills, not only guns and substance abuse.

Mental illness, especially undiagnosed and untreated, lies behind many of society’s ills, not only guns and substance abuse.

If you recognize any of the following symptoms from a loved one that has served in the military please seek help immediately. Unusual behavior, drug or alcohol abuse, hopelessness, uncontrolled rage, dramatic mood changes, drastic sleep patterns, or threatened or attempted self-harm are all red flags that cannot be ignored.

Oh, and Tony? He’s working on it, taking meds for his mental health, exercising, eating right and attending recovery meetings. He says he feels like he did when twenty (he is 45 now), which he says is really good, “cuz I used to feel 65.”

For a radio talk on the connection  between mental illness and recovery, click below.

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