By CHRIS AGEE
Mental illness has received increased attention in recent months, especially following a number of recent mass shootings.
President Barack Obama recently addressed the issue during the National Conference on Mental Health in Washington, D.C., laying out his plan to raise awareness.
Texas legislators have been active in addressing mental health in recent months, too. State senators proposed spending about $226 million on treatment, prevention, and education during a two-year period.
Additionally, a measure recently passed the State Legislature that would allow teachers, after receiving appropriate training, to identify signs of mental illness in students.
Locally, medical professionals deal with a litany of mental health issues, many of which manifest themselves early in life.
“Mental health comes in lots of forms and shapes,” said Palo Pinto General Hospital Chief of Staff and Emergency-Room Medical Director Dr. John Jones.
He said certain mental illnesses can present a significant danger and urges individuals to be aware of early warning signs.
“In terms of depression, specifically, warning signs in children are just a change in demeanor, a loss of interest in activities that otherwise they’d be interest in, a decrease in activity and a change in sleep or appetite patterns,” he said.
If left untreated, those symptoms can lead to more severe issues.
“Later signs would be withdrawing from family, from friends, and becoming reclusive,” Jones said.
Certain other mental issues – Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, for example – are also classified as mental health issues affecting youth.
While these disorders are “probably more common,” Jones said “depression would be more dangerous” and would “put you at risk for suicide and things of that nature.”
Mental illness affects all communities and Jones said Mineral Wells faces its own unique challenges.
“If we’re focusing solely on children, it would be hard to say it is more prevalent than anywhere else,” he explained. “Anecdotally, I think our community has a higher incident across the spectrum of mental health issues whether it be depression or bipolar disorder.”
He said such issues can place real limitations on the ability of individuals to lead normal lives.
“It affects the community in a lot of different ways,” he said, “in terms of lifestyle and taking their own life on occasion. They don’t function, aren’t able to hold a job because their depression is so severe.”
Treatment is available, though, and Jones urges individuals who believe they or someone else might be affected to seek appropriate medical attention.
“The spectrum of schizophrenia and mental health disorders of that nature a lot of times keeps folks from being productive citizens,” he said. “With appropriate treatment, these folks can be very productive.”
He said there are a number of resources available locally to assist individuals with mental health issues.
“Primary physicians are capable of making early diagnoses,” he said. “If it rises to a crisis, the emergency department is available to see those folks.”
Such crises include “wanting to hurt themselves or someone else,” Jones explained.
Finally, he said Pecan Valley Mental Health Center “does a great job of addressing” additional concerns.
In his recent speech, Obama presented five distinct areas on which he said his administration will focus. The first, he said, involves increased media campaigns and includes partnerships with social media sites, video game manufacturers, broadcast networks and musicians.
Secondly, Obama said he is committed to increasing education and preparing adults to recognize early warning signs in children.
He also advocated providing health care professionals with the necessary tools to screen for mental health issues.
The next area of focus involves coordinating an alliance of leaders to attack the negative perception many have about mental illness and improve access to local treatment options.
Finally, the administration proposed houses of worship join in the conversation through messages and other resources meant to help bring attention to mental health.