The facts about mental illness

Published 12:21 am Sunday, May 26, 2013

By Jan Gibson

The Daily News

Mental illness is one of the least talked about, least understood medical problems in society today. Finding information about these problems is becoming more prevalent, but still, most people just don’t know how many of their friends and neighbors are diagnosed with some sort of mental illness each year.

On Tuesday at the Bogalusa Rotary Club meeting, Gordon Thomas, the outpatient operations manager for Magnolia Behavioral Healthcare, presented an educational and eye-opening talk about the many forms mental illness can take and the children and adults who are affected.

Thomas began with a list of interesting facts about mental illness:

• One in three Americans ages 15-55 will develop a mental illness in their lifetime.

• One in five will experience a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. In Louisiana, that number is estimated to be 650,000 adults and 245,000 children each year. (Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

• Each year about one in four Social Security disability payments are made to people who have a severe mental illness.

Mental illness, although a significant health problem in itself, said Thomas, can be magnified when association with a chronic medical disease, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity or cancer. Risk factors, he said, are physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking or other substance abuse and lack of rest.

“The impact of mental illness and the promotion of mental health is a real big public concern,” said Thomas.

The biggest problem, though, is that mental illness remains widely misunderstood.

In fact, said Thomas, mental illness is more common than any other major public health concern. It is more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, psychiatric disorders are the number one reason of hospital admissions nationwide, with more than 20 percent of hospital beds filled with mentally ill patients at any given time.

Thomas spoke about some of the many famous and influential people through the years who suffered from some type of mental illness. He mentioned Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from severe depression; Beethoven and Van Gogh; and Winston Churchill, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately, most folks who suffer with mental problems never receive the appropriate mental health treatment they need to function in society.

In fact, Thomas said, according to one of his patients, mental illness is not a “respectable” disease, meaning that people don’t want anyone to know that they are being treated for a mental problem. He quoted his patient as saying that when someone has a physical problem, people are anxious to help. But with a mental disease, that’s not case. In fact, said Thomas, many times those people are shunned, in part because friends and family just don’t know how to respond.

Magnolia Behavioral Healthcare was formed in October of 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina blew through southeast Louisiana creating a need for mental health treatment and counseling.

The company was first an inpatient hospital only, serving geriatric patients (55 years old and above) and adolescents 13 to 18 years old. Before long, Thomas said, Magnolia decided to focus on the adult portion of its patients and shut down the adolescent unit.

Through the years, Magnolia grew so that now, there are four locations where treatment for any kind of mental problems can be found. The main hospital campus is in Lacombe on Highway 434. The other three locations are intensive outpatient clinics — one in Bogalusa on South Columbia Street, in Slidell on Gause Boulevard and in Covington on Highland Park Plaza.

Thomas said that the outpatient program is an alternative to crisis psychiatric hospitalization, treating those in crisis as well as those in need of long-term support.

“It’s a place that people can come to and talk about what’s going on, talk about what’s bothering them, talk about the things that they are having trouble dealing with and they can do it in a completely non-threatening environment,” said Thomas.

Anyone with any of the following symptoms can benefit from the intensive outpatient program, he said.

• Depression

• Trouble concentrating

• Anxiety

• Stress

• Forgetfulness

• Hopelessness

• Bipolar disorder

• Isolating

• Social withdrawal

• Low self-esteem

• Excessive worry

• Anger issues

Treatment is provided by caring and experienced professionals, said Thomas, in the psychiatry, social work and nursing disciplines. Patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia can also be helped with treatment. The treatment is covered by Medicare Part B and by many other insurance providers as well.

Thomas can be reached at his office in Bogalusa at 735-1750, or in Lacombe at 882-0226. His email address is