What is your profession?
I work as a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor for a major New York City hospital.
What forms of experience have you had with people with mental health disorders?
I have worked for the previous 22 years with adults who have co occurring disorders. That term means having two or more mental health issues. Many may not realize it but substance abuse is a mental health disorder as well. Think about it, when you enter an inpatient detoxification alcohol or substance abuse unit, you are locked in. You can leave by your own volition if and when you choose to sign out against medical advice.
What should people know about people with mental health disorders and chemical dependencies?
I have managed many patients throughout the years and for the most part, the patients are willing to make the necessary changes in order to improve their quality of life. In my experience, patients tend to take suggestions from their peers before listening to a professional. As a result, they suffer needlessly. The most important thing that people should know about others with co occurring disorders is that they are us. In other words, they are our family and friends. We need to embrace them and understand that they are not alone.
Have you found in your experience that a lot of your clients are violent?
As far as being violent, 99 percent of the patients I worked with are non violent. That one percent that does become violent is because they are being physically threatened or hurt. When it pertains to being violent, they are no different than the general public.
What can someone do if they have a friend or family member has an ongoing mental health disorder and chemical dependence?
If a friend or family member has an issue, they must seek professional help. No ifs or buts about it. The longer that person procrastinates, only makes it worse.
In your opinion is there a stigma with those who have mental health disorders?
There is definitely a stigma attached to having a mental health disorder. I currently have patients whose spouses don't know they are in treatment. I put the onus on society for always blaming the individual and never the societal ills that may have caused the problems in the first place. In general psychology you are taught a theory known as nature vs nurture. Are we born with mental health disorders or does our environment shape us into who we are? Points to ponder.
Where can someone that has a loved one going through a mental health disorder seek help?
When you have co-occurring disorders, you address the mental illness first, then the substance abuse usually subsides. However, treating both at the same time produces optimal results. To begin treatment, inpatient detoxification is the first step. Depending on the level of family ties, either a 28 day rehab followed by a 1 year intensive outpatient program will do. If no family ties are present, a long term residential program is recommended. Upon completion of either choice, follow up with 12 step meetings. Ongoing therapy along with medication can sustain an excellent quality of life.