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North Hills Monthly

Mental Health Providers Hope to Remove Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health

Apr 30, 2018 04:58PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Photo courtesy of InVision

Mental health is as crucial to well being as physical health, but mental health issues often are not discussed as openly due to the stigma that is associated with these disorders. That could explain why “CureStigma” is the theme being promoted by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) during Mental Health Awareness month, held annually each May.

Mental health disorders encapsulate a wide range of issues, from anxiety to depression to panic disorder, to attention deficient disorder (ADD) and more. The common thread is that it can strike anyone, at any age, and it can be as debilitating as any physical illness, causing the sufferer to be unable to perform even simple tasks. The good news, however, is that not only can many conditions be treated and managed successfully, but our region has many resources and providers who administer the necessary services.

The Center for Community Resources in Butler is a social services agency that serves as a single point of contact for mental health services. The organization conducts a needs assessment and refers clients to the proper services, whether that is counselors, housing, legal advice, or more.

“In the state of Pennsylvania, we are very fortunate to have as many nonprofits and mental health providers as we do,” said Hayley Merchant, senior manager of programs.

According to Dr. Craig Liden, senior medical director at The Being Well Center (BWC) in Gibsonia, whose primary focus is treatment of ADD, one of the most prevalent mental health diagnoses is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which affects 8 to 10 percent of the entire population. Often, ADD comes with other problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders, and weight management issues.

Although it can affect people of any age, Dr. Liden said that college-age students are the most common group the BWC sees. ADD affects females and males equally, though it shows up earlier in males and commonly as treatment-resistant anxiety or depression in adult females. Getting treatment, however, is important and can be effective at all ages.

“Being identified early can make a huge difference. If you don’t identify people and don’t treat them, it can lead to other mental health problems; the longer it goes on, it interferes with life performance at school or work, in relationships, and ultimately, even physical well-being,” said Dr. Liden, adding that there are a lot of successful treatments available.

Another widespread disorder is depression, which Dr. Kevin Caridad, CEO of the Cognitive Behavior Institute in Cranberry, said is the number one disability worldwide. 

“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment that couples emotional support with a goal-directed technique that examines thoughts, feelings and behaviors. CBT has a robust amount of empirical support demonstrating its efficacy in the treatment of a wide range of mental health concerns and diagnoses,” he said.

The effects of untreated mental health issues can be significant and can increase the risk for suicide and other self-destructive behaviors, according to Dr. Liden.

“Mental health, if left untreated, can really burn a lot of bridges with family and friends and can possibly force a person into debt because they can’t go to work,” said Merchant.

“Untreated mental health issues can significantly decrease a person's functioning in their daily activities, social relationships, and success in school and employment. Without treatment, many symptoms worsen or become more difficult to address over time,” added Dr. Caridad.

One misconception about mental health is that people are unable to work or function in society.

“That is not necessarily the case,” said Melissa Fereday, foundation and corporate relations manager with InVision Human Services in Wexford, which provides support for people whose disabilities make it difficult to be served by traditional approaches and methods. “We believe that everybody has potential and that is what we work hard to do—to help that person live a meaningful life in their community.”

InVision’s programs include residential support programs, community support, employment support, and an outpatient mental health program.

Another myth, said Merchant, is that those with mental illnesses are bad people. “I think we’ve been seeing a lot of that lately in the news when violence occurs in our nation; we automatically blame it on mental health and continue to paint that picture,” she said.

Dr. Larry Glanz, clinical psychologist and president of Cognitive Dynamic Therapy Associates in Wexford and Oakland, said that several key myths that plague mental health issues are that it is due to some kind of personal weakness; that people with mental health problems can’t be trusted; and that treatment for mental illness is long and difficult. 

Unfortunately, stigma still surrounds those with mental illness. One reason, suggested Dr. Liden, is that unlike a physical illness, it can’t be seen, and unlike objective testing used to diagnose physical problems, the diagnosis is made by assessing one’s behavior and mental functioning, using more subjective information. 

There is reason to be hopeful, however. According to Dr. Glanz, not only is there advanced research and treatment that is yielding more positive results for people struggling with mental health issues, but the region is blessed with many resources that others do not share. 

“Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, for example, is a center not only for treatment, but also for cutting-edge research,” he explained. “Our major universities serve to produce some of the area’s finest mental health professionals, and there are numerous agencies and professional organizations that advocate for, as well as care for those struggling with mental health problems.

“Increased attention to the facts about mental health can guide us to appropriate treatment as well as to good public policy,” he added. “In this age of instant communication, we should all avail ourselves of the opportunity to learn more about this important subject.”