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Why mental health matters

May 19, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Today's issue features an interview with Lisa Fernholz, a local woman who deals with mental health issues. I was so grateful to interview someone who is so open about something that has been shrouded in shame for so long.

The space for the article didn't allow me to get into the detailed neurological root of mental health issues, but there are actual differences in brain matter which, at the very least, cause someone to be susceptible to mental illness.

Movies, TV?shows, and the media very often show the extremes of mental illness:?the chronically homeless person who speaks in a way none of us can understand. The person who claims to see supernatural visions, to be God or Abraham Lincoln. The person on the edge of a high rooftop or bridge, ready to jump and end earthly life. People who have these symptoms do exist, but what the movies and TV shows don't portray is that these conditions are treatable. They're not always easy to treat. The treatment comes at a cost, but most of these conditions are treatable in most people.

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The most prescribed medication in the United States is antidepressants, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Not far behind are anti-psychotics. Used not just to treat delusions or psychotic episodes, these medications are used to even out swinging moods in people with bipolar disorder or related conditions, or those with a Cluster B personality disorder like Lisa Fernholz.

Our coverage of mental health will continue through the rest of May.

Our law enforcement officers tell us mental health crises are a big part of what they deal with.


Sometime after the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,"?(an example of a movie that shows the extreme of mental illness, and also the extreme of inpatient mental health care) there was an outcry demanding that the cruel practice of institutionalizing people with mental illness be stopped, and the people returned to the communities.

While gradual releases of patients in recovery happened in the '60s and '70s, it was President Ronald Reagan who insisted on the mass closings of institutions and the startup of community services to support people with mental illness in the communities.

Only these supports were not funded. Or only minimally funded.

In my travels as a journalist who cares about this issue, I hear from people living with mental illness all the time.

Between the unfunded community clinics and programs, and the overload of good programs and providers (something I'm tracking in our area since the closings of two of our state's mental health facilities)?most people who function fine most of the time in the community cannot get access to support, maintenance and treatment when they need it.

Psychiatrists get 10 minutes (and I've seen guidance from insurance companies advising doctors on how to cut that to as little as 5 minutes) to evaulate and treat a patient every month or three months -- to try to improve a complex neurological condition!?

If this was cancer or heptatits or diabetes or asthma or multiple sclerosis and after five to 10 minutes the doctor said, "Sorry, that's all the time I have. Try this medication. I can't see you for 90 days so I guess if it doesn't work, hang in there,"?there would be a public outcry for patient rights, and for the doctor's right to adequately treat a patient.

My friend Andy Behrman, author of "Electroboy, a Memoir,"?says, "Mental illness is not a casserole illness. No one supports you or your family and no one talks about it."?

What about therapy??In Iowa, the minute a new therapist sets up shop, their appointmetns are all booked. The rural areas are crying out for mental health care, and there are more roadblocks and de-fundings than answers.

The good news is, when there is access, there are better treatments. New meds are helping more. Deep brain stimulation, mindfulness meditation, new therapies, and new ways of supporting people have helped where they are available. Stay tuned for more.



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