Groups fight against mental illness myths

May 22, 2011 (CHICAGO) Mp>The gunman in Tucson, Arizona and Charlie Sheen's public behavior are examples of misconceptions of people with mental illness. Sometimes, these misconceptions make others afraid to seek help.

"People have to be able to get treatment and get the help that they need. It's all too difficult, too difficult today for people to get the treatment, to get evaluated for them to get the medication they need," said Suzanne Andriukaitis, the executive director of Greater Chicago's National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She says the climate for people with mental illness seeking treatment keeps getting worse.

"The providers are having long waiting lists for people to get in for an appointment, even for an evaluation. The state of Illinois is cutting the budgets to the providers, which means providers have to cut staff, and so the providers don't have much service to offer, which means people can't get the service," said Andriukaitis.

That can provoke situations like the shooting spree in Tucson.

"No one had brought him to treatment. No one had identified him as a person who needed treatment. He was identified by the school, as I understand, as a problem and extruded from the school community. What one could wish looking back on that situation is that the school had, instead identified him not as being 'bad,' but as being 'ill,'" Andriukaitis said.

Another option would have been to identify that shooter as in a state of denial like Charlie Sheen, said Andriukaitis.

"The clips that I have seen onTV of Charlie Sheen suggest to me that Charlie Sheen has something along the lines of a bipolar illness. He has some manic episodes. He has some grandiosity that he thinks that he's very special. These are clinical hallmarks of bipolar, and he's very badly in need of treatment," she said.

Andriukaitis also says some people are afraid of seeking help.

"These people don't seek help because they are afraid of being blamed for the illness, and nobody chooses to have one of these illnesses. There are changes in the chemistry of the brain. It's not something someone chooses to have," said Andriukaitis.

Service providers like Tony Kopera, who is CEO of Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, or C4, say limited resources create problems.

"Budget. For example, of the things that happens is, you cut social workers, school psychologists, cut access to contractual staff who might do assessments. And if the teachers do have a problem child in class, whatever age, elementary school, high school into the college area, they're not going to be helped," he said.

"If people have cancer, there's care available. There's all kinds of care available. There's treatment. There's access to that care. There's support services. There's all sort of things available and brought to bear on the situation right away. Mental illness [is] shoved to the background, blaming the individuals for an illness that he or she has absolutely no control over having," said Andriukaitis.

<>p> "I wish that there were more stories about the kinds of things that do work, about the people who are successful, about the people with serious mental illnesses who are in the workforce," Kopera said.

For more information on mental health resources and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, visit www.namigc.org and www.c4chicago.org.

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