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Mental Health Awareness

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Seeking help for mental illness

Did you know that fewer than 40 percent of those with mental health issues seek help? And those who do seek help wait, on average, eight to 10 years to do so? Mental illnesses don’t improve on their own, and left untreated can worsen, be more difficult and expensive to treat and cause more serious problems.

“Many people don’t seek help because of stigma,” says Ken Houseknecht, Executive Director, Mental Health Advocates of WNY. “But mental illness is a disease and, like any other disease, it’s important to seek medical help as soon as there’s a concern. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t wait a year to see a doctor. Why would you wait that long to seek help for a mental illness?”

If you’re concerned about your mental health or the mental health of someone close to you, you’ve already taken the first step: recognizing that something is not quite right. The next step is to seek professional help and be properly evaluated by a mental health expert, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker.

If you are in a crisis situation and/or are having suicidal thoughts, the Crisis Services hotline is available 24/7 at 716-834-3131. A counselor will talk to you, help you know and understand your options and help reduce the barriers to getting additional help, if needed.

“Families can also play a significant role in helping their loved ones with mental illness,” says Michele Brooks, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for Buffalo & Erie County. “They can assist in navigating the mental health system, accessing resources, aiding in recovery and most importantly, providing support, compassion and hope.”

If you’re not in a crisis situation, start with your primary care physician. Often, symptoms of a mental health disorder first appear as physical problems, such as headaches, stomach or back pain or other unexplained physical ailments. With the focus on integrating mental health with behavioral health, more primary care physicians are using best practices to uncover mental health issues and direct patients to professional mental health experts.

Organizations such as Mental Health Advocates of WNY, Crisis Services and NAMI can be extremely helpful in navigating the mental health system and directing people to the professionals who can help. In Western New York, for example, there are organizations dedicated specifically to helping children, veterans, college students, families and the elderly. There are also numerous legal and advocate services. (See the full list of resources on page 16.)

If you have health insurance, be sure to find out what your plan will cover. It’s also possible your employer might offer an “Employee Assistance Plan” (EAP) that covers counseling. If you’re a veteran, your local VA can help.

“The main thing to remember,” says Houseknecht, “is to get help as early as possible. With the right treatment, people with mental illnesses can get better or even fully recover.”

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