Mind Specialists / Featured Articles  / Think you know what mental illness looks like? Think again

Think you know what mental illness looks like? Think again

Mental illness could look like the mother of three suffering from post-partum depression.

Or a single man with an engineering degree who can’t find a job because he has a history of paranoid schizophrenia.

Or the child with autism who reads voraciously but won’t talk to strangers — including a doctor — under any circumstances.

Mental illness manifests itself in signs and symptoms at times readily identified by a doctor, at times only known by the one who is affected. Don’t think it’s easy to look at someone and tell if they’re mentally ill. Mental health is nothing if not fragile. Even the most well-adjusted suffer periods of depression over a job situation or a poor marriage.

Where does one begin to seek help?

Family doctors often prescribe medication for mental health issues based on their own training or in conjunction with a therapist trained to treat mental disorders with therapy, said Angela Ladner, executive director of the Mississippi Psychiatric Association.

Other resources include education and advocacy groups such as the National Alliance for Mental Illness for adults or Families as Allies for children. NAMI has chapters throughout Mississippi to offer support and education on mental illness to families and individuals needing help, said Sitaniel Wimberly, program director in the state.

Another place to seek help for mental health issues could be ministries operated by faith communities. Valerie McClellan, program director for Solomon Counseling Center at Catholic Charities in Jackson, said the nonprofit’s outpatient mental health services served 181 families and individuals in its 2018 fiscal year.

The three counselors at the center offer a range of services, McClellan said, from children’s trauma services to premarital counseling to family conflict.

Jo Hebert, licensed professional counselor at St. Mark’s United Methodist in Flowood, said her eight-year-long ministry has seen many individuals with a variety of issues as well—grief counseling and issues stemming from divorce, depression and anxiety. “I meet with people right where they are and feel comfortable sharing their burdens and helping them find hope, then take steps to finding more hope,” Hebert said.

Not everyone with a mental health issue needs to see a psychiatrist, Ladner said. “Psychiatric providers are for the 20 percent of the population with a chronic mental health issue,” she said.

Counselors, however, are trained to know when a client’s need outstrips what they can offer, Hebert said. That’s where a psychiatrist can step in and offer more support.

Local mental health centers, located throughout the state, funded by county boards of supervisors and the state Department of Mental Health, see many of the individuals with more severe and chronic mental illness, said Adam Moore, communications director for the Department of Mental Health.

The centers must meet state guidelines to be certified mental health providers, Moore said, but are not directly operated by the department. They provide a wide array of services, including crisis management, medication management and outpatient counseling, he said.

The state is divided into 14 regions, each having a system of mental health satellite offices, Moore said. People seeking mental health treatment can locate the office nearest them using the provider locator on the department’s website.

Individuals in crisis can call a toll-free number for their region and reach a crisis intervention team, who can assess the individual’s needs for mental health treatment. Shareka Jefferson, county administrator for the Region 7 office in Choctaw County in north Mississippi, said staff there regularly get calls to the hotline for individuals needing assistance.