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Mental health essential but often misunderstood

By: Morris L. Roth
May 12, 2010

The National Institute on Mental Health estimates that one in four Americans suffers from a diagnosable and treatable mental disorder. One in 17 suffers from a serious mental illness. And only 40 percent of those will seek treatment.

You are likely to encounter someone in your family, workplace, school, church or community who is experiencing mental health challenges. If you don’t, you’re still impacted by the cost to our society in unemployment, disability, incarceration and homelessness associated with untreated or misdiagnosed mental illnesses.

Many cases of mental illness, even mild depression, go untreated because of the shame and discrimination connected to a long-ago era when mental health patients were locked away in insane asylums, sometimes for their entire lives. Patients were considered “defective” and “incurable” due to a lack of effective treatments. At times, treatments were barbaric.

We’ve come a long way in treating clinical symptoms of mental illness. For most, symptoms can be easily managed. But we’ve made far less headway with societal discrimination. Consider the 2001 Canadian study of people with schizophrenia that found that social withdrawal had a “great impact” on their lives, while the hallucinatory and delusional symptoms of the illness had the “least impact.”

Today, our clients are living proof that persons with even the most severe of mental illnesses can function normally and contribute to society. And we hope to shed light on the problem of discrimination by hosting a “Spotlight on STIGMA,” May 19, at Colorado College. It is an evening of Stories, Testimonials, Insight, Gratitude, Music and Artwork, to raise awareness of mental health issues and prejudice in connection with National Mental Health Month.

Our experience as the community mental health provider in the Pikes Peak region is that a person with a mental health disorder, whether lifelong or temporary, is capable of many remarkable things, if given an opportunity. Consumers in our art therapy program have produced extraordinary paintings and photography, which will be auctioned off at the event with proceeds going back to the program. (Learn more at Many others have found gainful employment through our career development and placement services and the leadership of our corporate partners.

And while our local stars prepare for their big night, some big-time Hollywood stars are coming forward with personal stories about connections to mental illness in hopes of quashing stereotypes. Recently, actor Glenn Close launched a public service campaign about the legacy of mental illness in her own family. Her sister has bipolar disorder; a nephew has schizo-affective disorder.

Joe Pantoliano, best known for roles as a mobster and villain in “The Sopranos” and movies, suffers from clinical depression. He’s promoting a self -directed documentary in which he is featured called “No Kidding! Me 2!” He is also appearing in a PSA that features fellow stars Anthony Edwards and Harrison Ford.

The goal of the “celebrity advocacy,” Pantoliano told The New York Times, is “using the light of our stardom to shine in the dark corners of prejudice.”

We hope our “spotlight” will have the same effect because mental health is an essential part of everyone’s overall health and wellness.

There are healthy habits we can all adopt to help manage life’s challenges and raise our spirits: eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising, having a hobby or pet, and volunteering.

But sometimes, that’s not enough — just as over-the-counter medication might not be enough to combat allergens in the air this time of year.

No matter the reason, whether suffering from a serious mental illness or a mild case of depression, no one should be embarrassed to step forward or be afraid of losing his or her job, children, or identity because of a mental health disorder.

Morris L. Roth, president and CEO of Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group, has been in the behavioral health field for almost 40 years. He started his career with Pikes Peak Mental Health in 1972, eventually assuming the office of president and CEO in July 2000.

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