Garnet Coleman convinced a packed house at the Dallas City Performance Hall that mental health can triumph over mental illness. Texas State Representative Garnet recounted his spiral into dysfunction from bipolar disorder on a panel including Dr. Preston Wiles (UT Southwestern/Children's Medical), Matt Roberts (President of Mental Health America Greater Dallas) and Vanita Halliburton (Grant Halliburton Foundation). Dr. Wiles spoke for all of us who fight for mental health when he acknowledged Garnet, letting Garnet know it’s people like him that inspire all of us to go to work in the morning. Applause filled the theater while hope filled hearts.
Mayor Mike Rawlings partnered with The Dallas Morning News and KERA to host “Erasing the Stigma: Mental Illness and the Search for Solutions” The Newton tragedy ignited Mayor Rawling’s push for awareness and action. A capacity crowd filled the 750 seat theater, the latest addition to the Dallas Arts District. Panel members discussed mental illness, funding for mental health care, teen suicide, and gun legislation with depth of knowledge, personal experience and humor. Lee Cullum engaged panel members with her quick wit and breadth of reading material that left the rest of us swearing she had a teleprompter, but she didn’t. Topics switched from Elyn Saks, to mirror neurons to Richard Fee’s story and other topics. You might want to read some of these articles before the rebroadcast just to keep up with Lee. KERA will air the discussion again on Ch. 13 (in Dallas) on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.
The panel stressed early intervention as the best methodology to promote mental health. Vanita Halliburton said that of the mentally ill, 75% have a diagnosis prior to the age of 24, 50% prior to the age of 14. Wiles, Coleman and Roberts made the argument that early intervention for mental health is an economically sound move. Many of the chronically medically ill end up in jail, a high-cost proposition compared to medical treatment. Despite this fact, Texas cut mental health spending in 2003 dramatically. The population continues to expand, while mental health services lag behind.
Matt Roberts answered tough questions about funding and access for mental health with a refrain of “that’s the challenge.” This panel didn’t stoop to easy answers to pacify the hard questions of mental illness. Instead, they called for action. Call your Senator. Get involved.
Although the discussion focused on the critically mentally ill and early intervention, none of the panelists suggested that mental illness is disease available to everyone, not just those genetically predisposed to mental illness. My hope is future sessions will address this topic. Focusing on only the critically mentally ill as the solution for mental illness is akin to allowing everyone to reach stage four breast cancer before attacking the problem. Public officials need to address the importance of sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management and support groups as protective measures ensuring mental health. Waiting for problems to occur to take action only ensures larger and more deadly problems.
With the medication and knowledge we have today, most mental illness can be managed or averted. If we continue to consider mental illness an option just for crazy people, we guarantee its prevalence in our society. Heart disease reduced when people stopped smoking, implemented exercise and good nutrition in their lives. We all know heart disease is genetically more available to some, but a possibility for all.
Mental illness plays the same way. Vanita Halliburton suggested that early education about brain health and symptoms of mental illness is critical for conquering mental illness. I agree. However most of us take that suggestion as a way to spot illness in others, not in ourselves. The more accepting we become of the chance of mental illness in our selves or our families, the better chance we have of curbing the disease.
Awareness is the first step. With last night’s symposium, Rawlings, KERA and the Dallas Morning News took a Texas-sized step in the right direction.
For more information about Julie K Hersh, check out her Struck by Living website