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Health and Wellness: Susan Parmelee
Health and Wellness: Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five children ages 13-18 in the U.S. experience a severe mental disorder in a given year, and mood disorders are the third leading cause of hospitalizations for Americans aged 18-44. Most likely someone you know struggles or has a family member who struggles with and/or treats the symptoms of a mental health disorder. Do you know who that person is or how you can help them?

People with symptoms of mental-health disorders and diseases respond positively to social support; yet as a society, we tend to hide these types of health issues for fear of criticism, derision or contempt. Some of the stigmas individuals with the diseases of mental health face include phrases such as, “Just try to be happy and you will be OK. You are just someone who cannot handle life,” and, “If that person is mentally ill, they must be violent.”
Mental health diseases are not flaws in character, they are unfortunate medical events, just like cancer, heart disease and the common cold. An important goal of Mental Health Awareness Month is to dispel myths to help end stigma.

Here are a few of the myths we should all try to bust:

  • “People with mental illness just need to pull themselves together and get busy.” If you have a chronic heart condition, you would seek treatment and follow the recommendations of a doctor. Our brains deserve the same medical care when chronic mental health symptoms occur.
  • “Mental illness makes people violent.” A small percentage of mentally ill individuals may become violent; however, according to the National Institutes of Health, people with a mental health diagnosis are 11 times more likely to be the victim of violence.
  • “Mental illness is a sign of weakness.” We know there are both genetic and environmental contributors to mental illness, including traumatic events such as serving in a war zone, rape, violence, car accidents and loss of loved ones. A human being has as much ability to beat a mental health disease by being strong-willed as they do in curing cancer by treating it solely with a positive attitude.

I am often asked what signs and symptoms a loved one might be showing that may indicate mental health concerns. In adolescents and adults, there are usually both emotional and behavioral changes, including excessive fear, worry or sadness, extreme mood changes, difficulty concentrating, lack of self-care, changes in sleeping habits, irritability or anger, avoiding activities they usually enjoy, changes in eating habits, difficulty in perceiving reality, inability to carry out daily activities, intense concern with appearance, physical ailments (headache, stomach ache), intense reactions to stressors and thoughts about suicide. In younger children, you might observe changes in school performance, fighting to avoid bed or school, hyperactive behavior, frequent nightmares, frequent disobedience or aggression and frequent temper tantrums. Visit www.nami.org for a more comprehensive list and additional resources.

A struggling friend or family member may refuse help, but don’t give up. Sometimes a person might respond after knowing you are consistently there for them. Being available and supportive to individuals facing chronic illness and their families is a priceless gift and one that helps ensure a stable and healthy future. The Wellness & Prevention Center San Clemente, Family Assistance Ministries, local churches and OCLinks, which can be reached at 855.OC.LINKS (855.625.4657) provide referrals to mental health services in the San Clemente area.

Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at susan@wellnessandpreventionsanclemente.com.
The next meeting for the Wellness and Prevention Coalition will be at 4 p.m. on May 9 at the Triton Conference Center at San Clemente High School, located at 700 Avenida Pico.

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