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National Mental Illness Awareness Week stresses importance of s

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

Patrick Ryan hopes this year's National Mental Illness Awareness Week, which begins Monday, will cause more mentally ill individuals to seek treatment.

"With mental illness, there's always such a stigma," said Ryan, director of community relations for United Summit Center in Clarksburg. "That stigma can prevent people who are experiencing mental illness from getting help."

But, Ryan said, things have changed drastically in recent years, making it even more important for people to seek treatment early. There have been advances in medication and psychotherapy, which is now covered by more insurance programs.

"Mental illness is an equal- opportunity problem," Ryan said. "But, appropriate medication and treatment can reduce the impact of the illnesses on people's lives."

Here is information about some of the major mental illnesses that was provided by the U.S. Public Health Service:

Autism -- This brain disorder affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others and respond appropriately to the world around him or her. It tends to run in families. Symptoms can include language delays, mental retardation and repetitive behaviors. Treatments can include parent training interventions and medication.

Bipolar Disorder -- Also known as manic-depressive disorder, this serious brain disease causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning. Symptoms can include depression, mania (an abnormally elevated mood or irritability) and psychosis (such as hallucinations or delusions). Treatment can include psychotherapy and medication.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder -- This anxiety disorder causes people to suffer intensely from recurrent, unwanted thoughts or from rituals such as hand washing, counting or cleaning. Treatment can include medications and behavioral therapy.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- This anxiety disorder can occur after exposure to a terrifying event, such as a rape, a disaster, an accident or military combat. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts. Treatments can include various forms of therapy and medications.

Schizophrenia -- This brain disorder is the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies and paranoia. Treatment has advanced dramatically in recent years with the advent of new antipsychotic medications that have fewer side effects than previous drugs.

Panic Disorder -- This anxiety disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or abdominal stress. Treatment can include therapy and medications.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder -- This psychiatric disorder, which is generally diagnosed in childhood, is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of attention, concentration, activity, distractibility and impulsivity. Treatments can include medications and behavioral therapy.

Depression -- Symptoms of this medical illness include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, weight change, sleeping pattern changes, physical slowing or agitation, energy loss and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. Treatment can include medication and therapy.

Ryan urges people who are experiencing any of these symptom groups or their family members to seek intervention as soon as possible. United Summit Center has a 24-hour hotline for information and psychiatric crises at 1-800-SUMMIT0. Another line managed by the West Virginia Mental Health Consumers Association offers non-crisis discussion 24 hours a day at 1-888-914-9781.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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