Alice Campbell Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Weight gain or loss, difference in sleeping or eating patterns, out of touch with reality. Sound familiar? For many people, these symptoms are more than just mood swings; they're indicators of a mental illness. The symptoms are relatively common, but if they last longer than two weeks, they are signs of more serious issues, said Pam Vies, an adult case manager, psychiatric nurse and rural case management supervisor with the Center for Mental Health in Havre. But many people don't seek help because of the stigma that's attached to mental health problems, she added. A group of concerned professionals and community members is seeking to change that stigma though. The advisory council, "in place really to identify community needs and gaps in services," discusses mental illness in the community, Vies said. One area the council has identified that needs attention is to "combat stigma so that people will seek services," Vies said. People tend to think that others with mental illness are incapable of functioning normally, when in fact, they can recover and lead normal lives, Vies said. "Once people get to know a person with A mental illness, they come to understand it's just an illness," she added. The results from the completion of the Human Genome Project show that mental disorders have genetic causes. "We now have proof," Suzanne Lockwood, a registered nurse specializing in psychiatry at the Center for Mental Health in Havre, said, which makes explaining mental illnesses easier. Also, Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country, Vies said. "We've identified that as something we need to address in the community," she said. Mental illnesses are common and treatable, Vies said, but added that often people don't realize the seriousness of the illness or have trouble asking for help. But things are getting better. "Treatment of mental illnesses has changed so rapidly," Joe Uhl, director of rural services for the center said. He remembers cases while he was still going through school of patients being strapped into chairs and hosed off. Now, "overall we want people to recover their roles in the community," Uhl said. "It's very important that people in the community have some education," he said, adding that, "Education is the antidote for stigma and fear." People suffering from mental illnesses wouldn't be able to reintegrate into society without understanding people like landlords and employers, he said. To help people reach their potential again, the center offers several services that include individual, family and marital therapy; adult and children case management; a therapeutic aide program; and the evaluation and prescription of medications and management of those over time. The center also provides socialization to the patients through the Bear Paw House. The house is a place where people can play games, eat and socialize with others on a daily basis. "They do benefit a great deal from being in a social setting and having that support available to them," Vies said. An adult foster care program also provides some patients who might not be able to live entirely independently with a housing option. The people involved are "generally coming out of higher level (of care) or (we are trying) to prevent them going to a higher level of service," Uhl said. An emergency 24-hour phone line center is in place for patients to call, particularly if they're feeling suicidal, Uhl said. If a person calls the center at 265-9639 after hours, the call is automatically kicked to the emergency line, he added. Bear Paw Kids Management Authority also is engaged in the battle against stigma. Michelle Tomaskie, KMA's patient coordinator, attends the advisory council meetings. "What we like is to get different community members' input on mental health," she said. KMA also coordinates services for children with mental illnesses who tend to be involved in several agencies. KMA takes those plans and creates one. It's "easier for the family to work from one plan and for the agencies to work from one plan," Tomaskie said. There are support groups as well for parents and children where people can share challenges and triumphs and how they cope with situations, Tomaskie said. Out of 17 families, "I have a pretty devoted group," Tomaskie added. "I think for (kids), it is a place for them to gather, and I've heard it said many times that they don't feel alone because as they go through their daily struggles," Theresa Harris, KMA's youth coordinator, said. "It's overwhelming, and it's frustrating for them, but when they come to group there are others that can identify with what they feel," she continued. The children who participate fight the stigma attached with mental illness in addition to fighting the illnesses, Harris said, and "it's really a tool, I think, for them to be able to talk about what's going on in a positive environment." "Mental illnesses are just like any other physical illness," Tomaskie said, adding, "we would like to break the stigma around mental illness," to increase the number of people who seek help instead of being afraid or embarrassed to do so. For more information on KMA, call the Hill County Health Department at 265-5481 or visit www.hillcountyhealth. com/kma. For more information about the Center for Mental Health, call 265-9639. Northern Montana Hospital staffs two psychiatrists, Dia Arpon and Krissa Kirby, who offer cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy and others for several illnesses, along with counseling services. The hospital can be reached at 265-2211.