Mental illness should be taken more seriously

A recent online MSN poll posed the following question: Which step would be least effective to prevent mass shootings?

The options were: improving mental health treatment, more limits on assault weapons, better enforcement of existing gun laws and relaxing existing gun laws.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, only 8 percent of respondents answered that improving mental health treatment would be the least effective, compared with 57 percent who gave relaxing existing gun laws as their answer.

Although the poll might be informal, the results showed that people believe treating mental illness is an important step in getting to the root cause of mass shootings.

Helping the mentally ill is being discussed more, which is the way it should be. After all, it’s a disease and a condition, not a weakness, just as if someone became afflicted with cancer or was born with a cleft palate.

Would people taunt them? Often when patients are hospitalized with a disease, they are sent flowers and “get well” cards, not discussed behind their backs in hushed tones.

That often was the case if someone was diagnosed with schizophrenia or manic depression, for example, and unfortunately, it still happens.

Perhaps May’s designation as Mental Health Month will continue to change attitudes.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if someone is mentally ill, or if they’re maladjusted or simply behaving badly. It’s also probably easier to change the latter two than mental illness, but it is possible through counseling and medications, or a combination of both.

Dr. Kevin McDowell, licensed clinical psychologist at UP Health System-Marquette, talked about depression at the May 9 “The Doc is In” program at the Peter White Public Library.

Symptoms, he said, include markedly diminished experiences of pleasure, changes in sleep patterns, changes in weight or appetite and difficulty concentrating.

Everyone has their bad days, but depression, he said, interferes with a person’s life in a significant way.

And it’s not like a doctor can stick a thermometer in someone’s mouth and determine if an individual is suffering from depression.

There too remains the stigma of someone asking for help in dealing with mental illness.

That stigma should disappear, and the sooner the better.

Along with therapy and medications, things like diet and exercise, as well as spending time with loved ones and pets, can help someone struggling with the disease.

Perhaps the most important, though, is the “first line of defense”: sufferers talking with friends or other people they trust about their struggles, and those people listening to them and offering support.

Mental illness is everyone’s problem.

— Marquette Mining Journal