Pulling Mental Illness Out from the Shadows

by Alan D. Barry, Ph.D. Commissioner, Greenwich Department of Social Services

Experts estimate that 1 in four people have treatable mental health or emotional difficulties but up to 75% don’t seek the help they need. That’s 59 million people in this country and in Greenwich 11,470 residents suffering in silence, afraid to admit that they need mental health services. These numbers demonstrate that mental illness affects nearly every family in the Town of Greenwich, yet we too often struggle to have an open and honest conversation about mental health issues.

A Presidential proclamation designates May as National Mental Health Awareness Month, noting that tens of millions of Americans live with the burden of a mental health problem.

These individuals shoulder conditions like depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and bipolar disorder- debilitating illnesses that can strain every part of a person’s life as well as their family.

Shame, embarrassment, and fear of treatment are preventing a significant number of people from seeking help. We cannot improve the mental health of our community if we do not improve how people view mental health and mental illness by promoting acceptance, eliminating misperceptions and reducing negative attitudes and discrimination against those with mental illness.

A recent study in the Journal Psychological Medicine states that the stigma associated with mental illness is still a major barrier to seeking treatment. The Latest data from NIMH reports that 40 to 50 percent of all people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia go untreated each year.

Greenwich is not immune to the tragic consequences of untreated mental illness but there’s lots of great work going on in Greenwich that people need to know about.

Three years ago following the recommendations of the United Way’s Community Needs Assessment, The Department of Social Services and the United Way formed a Mental Health Provider Group, a coalition of community mental health agencies that are now working together to strengthen collaboration, develop a more effective network of programs and improve communication about available services.

The Mental Health Provider Group worked with the United Way’s Community Answers to develop a “Know Your Town” information card for mental health and addiction services and updated the mental health agency information in the Community Answers data base.  The information cards are available at the Greenwich Library and in Town Hall.

The group also worked together to establish the Young Adult Center, a social/recreational drop-in program for ages 18-25. The group meets every Wednesday from 1:30 to 3:00pm at the YMCA.

The Town should be commended for the expansion of the Kids In Crisis TeenTalk Program. The expansion was made possible through funding in the Town’s Budget that support full time mental health counselors at Western and Central Middle Schools for the 2015 school year with plans for Eastern Middle School in 2016.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with stress, depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues, please reach out to them and encourage them to seek help. A good place to start is by calling the Greenwich Department of Social Services at (203) 622-3800 or Community Answers at (203) 622-7979.

It’s time to pull mental illness out of the shadows, turn the spotlight on mental health and get the word out that there is effective treatment available. The good news is that most people with mental illness can and do recover and lead happy, productive and full lives.