Note mental illness awareness week

To the editor:

October 4-10 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, dedicated to public education about serious mental illnesses, such as major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Mental illness is a medical illness, just like diabetes, and no one is immune. About 60 million Americans experience mental-health problems in any given year. One in 17 lives with the most serious illnesses; 1 in 5 families are affected; having one or more loved ones with a diagnosable mental illness.

My two children have both been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. My son, now 36, was diagnosed with schizophrenia with paranoia when he was in the Army. My daughter, now 34, was diagnosed as Bi-Polar (manic depressive) when she was still in high school. Both of my children understand that they have medical illnesses that can be controlled with medications and counseling -- same as folks newly diagnosed with diabetes. And, like diabetes, their mental illnesses can be controlled, but not cured.

Treatment works, but it can take 10 years, between the onset of symptoms and getting help. Half of cases begin by age 14, but less than half of children or adults get help when they need it. People with serious mental illness live, on average, 25 fewer years than other people. This can be a side effect of the powerful medications they have to take.

Learn more about mental illness and symptoms at: Please ask questions. Talk with your doctor, if you or a loved one shows warning signs. For example, do they take extra time to answer questions -- their brain is not working normally, if they have a mental illness.

The doctor can also rule out physical reasons for symptoms your loved one may be exhibiting.

My name is Eileen, and I am a trained Facilitator for a NAMI Family-to-Family Support Group. This is mainly for family members and friends of people diagnosed with mental illness. We meet on the first Monday of every month in the evening for about 2 hours. Please call me for more information at (770) 504-9172. The best times are in late afternoon or early evening. I may also be able to help you, if you need help deciding what to do next.

EILEEN GEURTS, CIT Training Coordinator for Henry, Spaulding and Clayton Counties.