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Mental Health Month PerspectivesPosted Date: 05/30/2017
By: Marsha Smith and Dalinda Green, Licensed Social Workers at Arkansas Health Center
As part of National Mental Health Awareness Month observed each year in May, DHS employees who work with people who have mental health issues were asked to share their stories.
By Marsha Smith, LSW, Arkansas Health Center
Although planning to teach French and Speech for secondary education students, I found myself drawn to a career working with people with mental illness when I landed a summer job in 1969 working at what is now the Arkansas Health Center where my mother and aunt also worked. I was drawn to the compassionate helpfulness of social workers, and on the advice of then Social Work Director Herman Harley, I took some social work courses and landed a full-time social service worker position with the center upon my college graduation in the early 1970s.
My natural predilection to advocate for persons with disabilities emerged, and I found my true calling in righting wrongs, crusading, (though sometimes blundering), in the battle for the rights of the disenfranchised. I served as the DHS Client Advocate from 1997 until 2003 and went back to the center in 2005. Working with psychiatrists, primary care physicians, and other behavioral health experts, it has been a joy to assist people in meeting their goals to develop the skills, behavioral control, and medication management necessary to succeed in living in the community or other settings less structured than institutions. The experience and multiple training opportunities also better equipped me to cope with mental health and substance abuse issues in my own family.
Those of us who are not challenged with acute mental health issues cannot fully appreciate the strife, stigmas, and obstacles encountered by those with mental health diseases, or the families who try to help and support them. The stigma people with severe mental illness face is much the same as that faced by others who deal with prejudice and racism. They are often devalued, ridiculed, demeaned and considered unintelligent. While medical conditions are accepted, mental health issues are often considered shameful. Regrettably, society has often chosen to avoid dealing with things it does not understand.
Substance abuse also often accompanies mental illness and is often misperceived by the public as matters of choice, rather than disease. The societal de-valuing of people with mental illness results in a high incidence of poverty, poor medication management of the symptoms of mental illness leading to other complications, and often homelessness or prison. People with Bi-polar disorder struggle with mood swings from mania to severe depression; and untreated depression can lead to suicide.
People need to understand that most mental illness is treatable and manageable with proper medication, therapy, and solid support systems. Mental illness is not indicative of lesser intelligence - people with mental illness often have normal to high IQ’s, and some are quite gifted in academia and/or fine arts. Although no cure currently exists, research has resulted in a new generation of medications that are more successful in managing symptoms of mental illness and allowing many to successfully work alongside us in the workplace and successfully live in the community.
There are various grass roots, state, and national organizations of people who advocate for those with mental illness. A Suicide Prevention Walk is held in Little Rock annually. Per the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans live with a mental health condition, and everyone is affected or impacted by mental illness through friends and family.
Although social work with the mentally ill can be emotionally exhausting at times, it is also immensely rewarding to see positive changes in someone’s life and to help people realize their full potential.
By Dalinda Green, LSW, Arkansas Health Center
It is an extremely rewarding privilege to work in behavioral health, because you see firsthand how your time and commitment can inspire others and improve lives. Witnessing the positive change and growth of those you serve provides an inspiring and humbling feeling that transcends into your own life.
“There is no better feeling than to provide relief from suffering through understanding.” Elizabeth Singer, Licensed Psychoanalyst