Mental illnesses are often very treatable

Published 11:59 am Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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Naomi Judd, half of the iconic duo, The Judds, took her own life on April 30, 2022. She was 76 years of age and had struggled with depression for most of her life. It was heartbreaking and sadly, Naomi’s tragic death is repeated 126 times a day in the United States.


May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and suicide is one example of a collection of disorders that change a person’s thinking, emotions, and behavior. In addition, mental illnesses are linked to functional issues in social, family, and work surroundings.

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Our mental health is the foundation of our social being. It controls our emotions and how we communicate, learn, and relate. Our personalities are primarily controlled by our mental health. And collectively, our mental health contributes to communal well-being. For too long, mental illness has been something people were embarrassed to discuss. But mental illness is just like heart disease or kidney stones; it’s a treatable health condition. As our understanding of the brain expands, our treatment options also continue to grow. 


Mental illness can affect anyone of any age, gender, social status, and ethnicity. Like other illnesses, some mental illnesses are mild (such as phobias), and other conditions require hospitalization. However, many with mental health conditions return to full function and productivity.


A mood swing or a concerning thought does not always indicate a mental health concern. For example, people can become depressed over losing a loved one. This mood is a natural reaction to a life event. But when depression gets in the way of how one functions in everyday life, the person may need professional care. Family or friends may recognize changes that a person doesn’t see in themselves or the changes may be difficult to spot by others.


Some mental health issues are caused by medical conditions, while some physical symptoms are caused by mental health conditions. Diagnosing mental health challenges usually involves a complete evaluation which includes a physical exam, neurological tests, and lab work. 


Primary care providers and mental health clinicians help patients and families work through mental illnesses, and offer suggestions to better cope with symptoms. Because a patient is diagnosed with a mental disorder does not mean there is a need for intense treatment. Instead, the severity of symptoms, the intensity of distress affecting daily living, the risks/benefits of treatment options, and other considerations determine the course of action. All treatment is individualized and collaboratively developed between the provider, the patient, and at times, family members. Treatment options include medications, talk therapy, or combinations of various approaches. As we know from several previous articles, lifestyle changes that include good nutrition, sleep and exercise can aid in recovery. 


In Polk County, there are a number of organizations and providers that assist with the treatment of mental health disorders. You can get more information from your primary care provider on the entities that you may find most valuable to your situation. We should never be embarrassed to discuss our mental health. At St. Luke’s, we offer a program called Senior Life Solutions. 


Senior Life Solutions is an intensive outpatient counseling program that addresses the emotional and behavioral health of adults over the age of 65. Through a combination of therapies, education, and wellness programs, Senior Life Solutions assists older adults experiencing depression or anxiety, who have recently experienced a traumatic event, and a host of many other symptoms. With this program, patients can discover how to handle life’s challenges and find joy again. The program works to improve emotional stability and increase general functioning and help patients identify, develop, and increase the use of practical coping skills by emphasizing the existing strengths of the individual and/or family system.


If you are considering suicide at any age please know you are not alone and help is available. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. This line provides 24/7 free and confidential support for individuals in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources. 


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at