What is your profession as well as your educational background?
MSW-masters in clinical social work
PH. D in Clinical Social Work
Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Disability Studies
Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor
Clinical Social Worker in private practice
Chairperson and Professor in Human Services BS degree
Adjunct Professor for Masters in Disability Studies
What forms of experience have you had with people with mental health disorders and chemical dependence?
During the de-institualization era of the 1980’s I took individuals out of the mental institutions and placed/worked with them in a community day program. Most were locked up for the bulk of their lives (10-50+years) due to the stigma of mental illness.
For chemical dependency, I worked for 15 years in an outpatient substance abuse center, for those who had chronic addictive disorders. Most came everyday for therapy.
For both mental health/chemical dependency I led group therapy, individual therapy, did intakes, went on day and overnight trips.
Later, I was the community educator, and gave over 1000 lectures to the community, for free, about substance disorders.
What should people know about people with mental health disorders?
Mental disorders are in every family. They often are undiagnosed
There is no need to be afraid of someone who is mentally ill, or hallucinating, as they will do harm to themselves (suicide) much more often than being violent to others.
It is a brain disorder. When your computer is not giving the correct signals things are ‘off’.
Have you found in your experience that a lot of your clients are violent?
Nope. I’ve been doing this since 1981 and I only had one client that I had to refer to the PSY Emergency Room for homicidal ideation.
What can someone do if they have a friend or family member has an ongoing mental health disorder and chemical dependence?
Frustrations come from the behavior (sometimes bizarre) that the mental illness produces, so while the family may distance, they have to ask if they are doing so or are they ‘detaching with love’, or is it anger? If anger, is it angry at the disorder or the person? Hopefully, the disorder, but I think family forget this because they have not practiced a healthy response.
Look to see what kind of insurance the person has. You have to start there, rather than getting a good referral that you cannot afford, if they don’t take insurance. The insurance will have a list of professionals.
Know the difference between a clinical social worker; psychologist; psychiatrist. Clinical social workers, and Mental Health Counselors with master’s degrees, do most of the therapy in this country, NOT psychologist (they know testing, not necessarily counseling Unless they have a psyD degree), NOT psychiatrists as they are MD’s and do not take any counseling courses. This is why they only need to check on the mediations and don’t (should not) give therapy. They are not trained in therapy.
Medications can make all the difference…I’ll talk more in the next question
In your opinion is there a stigma with those who have mental health disorders?
People with mental conditions add to the sigma: For medications, people don’t want to go on them. They want to do it naturally, but when posed with the natural plan (daily exercise, healthy eating, reading articles/books that relate, increase in therapy sessions, finding a self-help group, using complementary therapies-yoga, acupuncture, stress reduction workshops, homework from the therapist, etc.) many won’t do it. So, medication is the quicker alternative. PLUS, many still think the meds will get you high….we have meds (since the 80’s) that are for everyone that are NON-addicting.
General society has yet to see it as a brain disorder.
Bi-polar is misunderstood. Bi-polar is NOT going from a good mood to a ‘hot head’…that is just poor communication! I hate it when people flippantly use this. Bipolar moods can take days to months to change from lots of energy to a depressed/low mood.
The media stigmatizes. Every news program has reports of people who do behaviors, because of mental illness/chemical dependency. I don’t think this should be on the news. If a person with say cancer did a behavior, because of their illness, would we put it on TV?
Insurance stigmatizes. Only recently will they pay for treatment. I used to have to call them every 5 sessions to ask for more! BUT, if the same client had heart palpitations, and went to the ER, they would be seen and treated asap, no limits. The also did this with detox. If you were there already that month you could not return-even if you had a burning desire to get clean.
Do you think counseling and medication is a cure all for recovery?
Sometimes yes. But the path to recovery is different for all. The best thing is to try all options.
Where can someone that has a loved one going through a mental health disorder seek help?
I answered some of this in a question above about insurance.
Almost every hospital has a behavioral health unit.
NAMI is also a good resource
Read a good book or NAMI for information
See the movie “A Beautiful Boy” for chemical dependency
Do you have a mental health disorder? And if so, how has having a mental health disorder changed the way you relate to those who have mental health disorders as well?
I have an anxiety disorder and I am on medications. I can empathize with others who have the same of varying conditions. I also have been through the process of accepting the illness and can aid others on that path. I also, can speak to them about medications and other things I have done to help myself-including coping mechanisms. I do not disclose to my clients, as my profession taught me to keep boundaries and still be able to relay information, without disclosing.
What advice do you wish you knew when you started your profession that would help you become more effective when dealing with those inflicted with mental health disorders?
That crisis-interventions can be exhausting for the professional. Sometimes it can take hours before all is said and done. And then what if you have group therapy or other individuals waiting for their sessions???
What's one thing you would like to change about the mental health system and the accessibility of help?
Since we often work for non-profit I would like to see more funding. I never have enough time with the clients and the demands of the job. Lower caseloads would help. When HIV/AIDS came on board there were tons of money. Where is it for this chronic epidemic?? I’ve worked in horrible settings due to low funding. Clients should have a decent environment to come for treatment. We have places that are falling apart. We see clients in hallways at times due to low office space. What message do we give to clients?
Also, cut the paperwork. We spend 8 hours of our week, doing paperwork. A whole day of forms, notes, each phone call, referral, contact, sending information, etc. Imagine who we could serve if we had that day back.