Looking at mental illness
By Rev Paul N. Papas II
Framingham Tab April 13, 2007
This is the first monthly article about mental health issues. The object of these articles is to educate the public and address misconceptions connected with people who happen to have a mental illness. Even though mental illness effects one in five people there is a stigma attached to it that keeps many people from going public about their own or that of a family member. Some families consider it a family secret and won’t talk about a member who happens to have a mental illness. If someone happens to break their leg, they usually have no problem telling people how it happened or even getting the cast signed. I am not aware of anyone who woke up one morning and asked for a mental illness or a broken leg, both of which are medically treatable, but treated by the public in very different ways.
It might be helpful to realize that chemical imbalances in a body cause a variety of medical problems. There are hundreds of chemicals in the human body and each body reacts uniquely to the chemicals in his or her body. There are acceptable levels of many chemicals for our bodies and sometimes there is a deficiency in one or more chemicals which need to be replaced. A medical doctor prescribes medications that are chemicals, with the goal of bringing a proper chemical balance within the body. The difficulty of finding the right medication is that each body reacts differently to the same medication. There are times when a period of trial and error is required to find the correct dosage. Then there are times when a body builds up a tolerance to medications requiring a change in medications. It is possible that a person could successfully remain on the same medication for the rest of their life.
One effect of missing or low levels of certain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in the brain is what we commonly call mental illness. Our brains consist of billions of neurons or cells that must communicate with each other. It is necessary for these cells to communicate with each other in order for our bodies to properly function. When that communication is interrupted we won’t know if the water is hot.
Scientists are learning more about neurotransmitters and have been able to identify many of which control certain bodily functions and which were related to certain mental illnesses. Scientists tell us that too much or too little of the chemicals Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine or GABA (Gamma Amino butyric Acid) produce conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD,anorexia, Parkinson’s Disease, addictions. Phobias and more. A person does not request to be afflicted with any of these problems, but they are medical conditions and should be seen and treated as such.
Finding the correct balance is the goal. There are side effects to each medication. Some of those side effects are visible to others, some are not. To some it might appear the person is drunk or high. Some side effects are: drowsiness, restlessness, nausea, nervousness, fatigue, dry mouth, headache, blurred vision, photosensitivity, insomnia, weakness, emotional liability, involuntary muscle movements, slurred speech and tremors. Only a professional can determine the cause of these symptoms. In medicine there are many similar symptoms that relate to various causes. Cuts and broken legs are easier to diagnose and treat and are more socially acceptable.
Mental Illness is part of today’s reality. Part of that reality is that they are treatable and non-communicable. You can touch and it won’t rub off. One of the best medicine’s known today is a simple appropriate touch or hug.
Rev Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries and current President of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Framingham. NAMI Greater Framingham has support groups for family and friends in Framingham and Uxbridge, and Peer Support Groups in Marlborough and Milford and a Family to Family 12 week Education Course in Framingham and various Education Meetings, the next being May 3rd at the First United Methodist Church in Framingham. www.narrowpathministries.org and http://home.earthlink.net/~nami01704