Mental illness doesn’t have to be a secret

Amy Van Gunst

There are movies made about it. Celebrities devote entire interviews to talking about it. And authors write books on it.

But, our kids can’t talk about it at school. And adults can’t openly embrace it. Shame, confusion and misunderstanding continue to surround it.

There’s no reason the new mom has to feel alone and helpless or for the student to have panic attacks every morning before class.

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I wanted to share my thoughts about the state of mental health in our state and what we need to do to improve.

Mental illness is real. It’s a medical issue that doesn’t just target a specific age, gender or ethnicity. It affects doctors just the same way it affects grandmas, business owners and brothers-in-law.

According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, one in four adults experience a mental health issue at least once in their life. And one in 17 adults lives every day with a serious mental illness. Schizophrenia isn’t just in the movies. Bipolar disorder doesn’t have to be life paralyzing. And depression can be managed. Whether it is inpatient care, weekly therapist appointments or monthly visits to the psychiatrist, the solution is out there. But, treatment only works if the person affected can get it.

We live in a state where our state government is concerned for the future of children and adults’ lives. The Health and Wellness Initiative was established to help improve residents’ lives in schools, hospitals and our own homes through disease prevention and early detection, education and community initiatives. Governor Snyder’s proposed budget for 2013-2014 has increased funding for additional health issues such as dental care and autism.

The “Michigan 4×4 Plan” addresses the concern for improving the personal health of all residents. It recommends a healthy diet, exercise, a yearly physical exam and ceased tobacco use. This plan, however, does not incorporate any steps for improving the overall wellness of our state’s residents. And it should. Mental health is directly connected to a person’s physical health, and ultimately affects the well-being of every community in our state.

While it’s too late to change what’s planned for the upcoming fiscal year, we can make improvements to the proposed state budget for the following year. We need to take a holistic approach to the health and wellness of our state and acknowledge that a person’s physical and mental health affects their livelihood. If we change our focus, our families, communities and businesses will benefit greatly.

The mysteries and silence surrounding mental health issues remain the same.
During this Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s time for that silence to change. It’s time for conversations to happen. Early identification and consistent treatment are essential for stability.

Grand Rapids has an established network of counseling centers, psychiatrist offices and other mental health service providers. But, unless questions are asked and appointments are made, those who need the help won’t get it.

Be a good parent, responsible friend or loving spouse and know the signs of mental illness, so you can be that encouraging voice that helps your loved one find the help they need and deserve.

By changing attitudes about mental illness, we can change lives.

This article was originally published in the Grand Rapids Press. See the original text article here.

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Amy Van Gunst, M.Div, MA, LPC
Amy Van Gunst has been the Executive Coordinator of the Fountain Hill Center since 1994. She has the kind of experience, both in life and with clients, that allows her to help individuals and couples deal with a wide range of issues. She works with people in a collaborative way as they walk down their own journey of healing, facing the issues that confront them. She is able to use a variety of tools in that process and is eager to find what works the best for each person.
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