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Doctor: View mental disorders as any other health issue to remove stigma - The Galveston County Daily News : Lifestyle

November 26, 2014

Doctor: View mental disorders as any other health issue to remove stigma

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Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:15 am

She’s crazy. He’s a whack job. She’s missing a screw. If you haven’t used these sayings, you’ve probably heard them.

These are common phrases used to refer to people with a mental health issue. However, the real issue lies in recognizing unusual behaviors as a sign of a mental health disorder and removing the stigma.

We’ve learned to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack — shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, pain in the arm. When a person has any of these complaints, he or she is advised to see a doctor or call 911.

However, when someone exhibits signs of a mental health problem — increased irritability, trouble sleeping, difficulty getting along with others — the response is different. They may be told to “get it together.”

Their symptoms often are not recognized as a health concern. And when they are recognized, victims might not seek help because of the stigma attached to mental disorders.

Dr. Karen Wagner, vice chairwoman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said she believes the stigma can be removed when people begin to view mental disorders like any other health issue.

“There’s a biology to many mental disorders, a neurochemical abnormality within the brain,” Wagner said. “There’s a belief that people should be able to will themselves out of depression. Often, medication is necessary to treat depression.”

A diabetic might become irritated and anxious because of a drop in blood sugar caused by a biological imbalance. The consensus might be that he or she needs to take a glucose tablet or seek medical attention.

However, when a mentally ill person becomes irritable or emotional, the thought pattern is different. The consensus is the person needs to change his or her behavior. While in reality, they, too, might be suffering from a biological imbalance and need medication and medical attention.

It’s important to state that not all mental health disorders are the result of a biological imbalance and require prescription treatment. Some disorders can be caused by stress or trauma and be treated with counseling.

However, recognizing behavioral issues as a legitimate health problem is the first step toward a positive change.

Here’s a reality check: 1 out of every 4 adults in America experiences a mental disorder in a given year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Furthermore, 1 in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

Signs of a mental disorder might include withdrawal from peers and family, irregular sleep, irritability, appetite changes and suicidal thoughts.

Wagner specializes in the treatment of children and adolescents with anxiety and mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Often, parents write off warning signs as a simple phase their child is going through.

“If you notice any signs of depression or anxiety, bring your child in for a mental health evaluation,” Wagner said. “Treatment can improve your child’s life.”