Dr. Katherine Nordal promotes mental health awareness and improving services
About two weeks ago, the American Psychological Association Practice Organization gave our district’s Senator, Creigh Deeds, State Legislator of the Year Award for the significant progress he has made in the state’s care for the mentally ill. Dr. Katherine Nordal, director of the organization who presented Deeds with the award, shared some helpful ways we can all contribute to the senator’s work improving treatment and outcomes for the mentally ill.
“I certainly admire the senator for the willingness to really make mental health, not just mental illness, but mental health a front and center issue in the state. I think one thing that contributes to stigma, and it’s a sort of a myth that we need to debunk, is this idea that mental health problems are not common, and in fact mental health problems are very common. Now mental health problems can run the range certainly from mild to severe.”
Even though there is still a long way to go, especially in the area of public mental health care, the gaps in the system are not because of lack of professional knowledge or current research.
“We have chronically underfunded our treatment for mental illness, and so we’ve not had a very good system, so we need reforms. Mental health problems are very treatable. There is a lot we can do.”
While working for critical reforms in legislation may feel like a task too large for most of us, learning to recognize symptoms, and paying attention to our words can help in very real ways.
“We have to be really careful about labels. When we label people by their illness that’s also damaging. If some one has schizophrenia, we say, “This individual has schizophrenia, not he is schizophrenic. We don’t say to some one, “Oh you are a heart attack, or you are a cancer.”
Dr. Nordal continued.
“I think one of the best solutions to some of this, in addition to: ‘watch our language; don’t label people; don’t jump to conclusions,’ is to recognize that mental health is part of overall health. One of the long-term solutions is going to be integrating our physical health care and our behavioral health care, so that an individual can have a one-stop shop, and get all of their health care there at a primary level.”
Case managers and pharmacists who stay aware of patients’ records and histories could be essential players in a team caring for a person with mental illness. A community health care center that staffs a family doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and maybe even physical therapists, all consulting with each other as needed, seems a far-off dream. Yet, the results from this type of care could be immeasurable, at the very least would improve, and possibly in some cases even save lives.
Dr. Nordal: “We need a team-based approach to health care, and that health care must include mental and behavioral health care. It has to be health care for the whole person.