(Photo: Photo courtesy of ThedaCare)
Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. One in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime — and every American is affected or impacted through their friends and family.
According to the Journal of American Medical Association, 50 percent of the people who have a severe mental condition also have a substance abuse problem. JAMA also found that 37 percent of alcoholics have a mental illness, as do 53 percent of drug addicts. I believe the numbers might be even higher than JAMA predictions.
Dual diagnosis is very common with the patients in our groups. We often need to treat the addiction first before we can help patients deal with their mental health issues.
The first thing we need to do is to clear their minds. It often takes 30 days just to help them feel better so we can help them seek the kind of mental health resources they might need. I work with two groups — each with eight people. Recovery planning requires exploring six dimensions of the wellness wheel: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Social, Occupational and Spiritual.
Each person keeps a planner that they need to update each week demonstrating how they have touched at least three dimensions, three times each week. So, they may have started a new exercise routine, started volunteering for a nonprofit and participated in new social situations. This is a six-week program. Our goal is to help them get balance in their lives so they can achieve success.
I see patients twice each week during the program, and provide additional support once they graduate. In addition to the six weeks of group, I also conduct three individual sessions to address issues that are not group fodder. After the six-week group, patients do “step down” treatment called, “Continuing Care For 8 More Weeks,” but it is less intensive (two-hour sessions, once per week). Long-term recovery requires ongoing support. We encourage them to do things they don’t want to do each day. Little by little, they begin to change their behaviors and turn their lives around.
Many people who are in the program have been in previous treatment programs. There is so much public shame for those who seek long-term recovery. The government has no idea how deep this problem is and what the true costs of dual diagnoses are in our communities.
The individuals who need treatment the most continue to churn between addiction and mental health because there isn’t enough support or education about the issue. They have become so used to using drugs or alcohol for self-medication to address mental health issues like anxiety or depression that it’s very difficult to break the cycle without serious intervention.
Treatment options vary state by state and county by county. Some counties, like Outagamie, Winnebago and Dane, have good services for those seeking treatment. Other counties, particularly in rural areas of the state, have few treatment options. We need to make it easier for people who have a problem to get the treatment they need.
I’m concerned about the mixed messages about substances and mental health. One example is legalizing marijuana throughout the country. There are serious consequences for heavy marijuana use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana affects brain development. When people use marijuana regularly, the drug may reduce thinking, memory and learning functions. Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.
There have also been increases in fatal car crashes due to marijuana use in states like Washington and Colorado that have legalized the practice. What kind of message are we sending to our children? We should be educating people about the risks and importance of preventing drug and alcohol use. Instead, we’re making it easier for addictive personalities to have access to dangerous substances.
I speak from experience. I am in long-term recovery myself (nine years clean). This is an issue I’m very passionate about and I am doing everything I can to lead others to wellness.
Jerome Mutchie is a clinical substance abuse counselor for ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha.