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Have you checked your mental health?


If someone cuts you off in traffic, are you immediately angry, impartial, or empathetic? A simple question, a common situation, but your answer can tell you a lot about the state of your mental health. Of course, you should be justified in feeling defensive from time to time, but if you regularly arrive to your destination with blood boiling, that can't be good for your stress levels.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness such as depression and anxiety in a given year, but nearly 60 percent don't receive mental health services. Frustrations with life's challenges can start out innocent enough, but can quickly spiral into substance abuse, disability, lost earnings, disease, and suicide when deep-seated issues are ignored.

Personally, I follow a three-pronged approach to health and wellness: physical, mental and spiritual. Holding my mental health to as high a standard as physical health and spiritual practice can be a costly investment.

Some individuals and families may have found temporary budget relief in the mental and behavioral health services covered by the Affordable Care Act. With those health benefits going away, I encourage Wisconsinites to look into our many local mental health organizations to find the resources that appeal to both your concerns and your wallet. NAMI Wisconsin is a great place to start, whether you are collecting information for yourself, your dependents, family members, or friends.


Mental Health Parity
What did not go away with the ACA was mental health parity, which means insurance companies need to give equal coverage of mental illnesses/substance abuse, and physical health services. Did you know there is a strong link between mental health and substance abuse? According to NAMI, among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5 percent had a co-occurring mental illness.

Peter Brunzelle is a Waukesha-based recovery coach trainer and supervisor. He recently launched WISHOPE.org, a website with an interactive map to resources, education, and support for addiction and mental health concerns. Brunzelle believes that communities need to tap into the specialized treatment programs available to truly make an impact on an individual's recovery.

"A heavy drug user with an eating disorder needs different care than a heavy drug user with bipolar disorder," Brunzelle says. "The program that will be most effective for these individuals combines specialized training and experience with therapies that are best used in those situations."

Many resources in the state offer sliding scales of care so it is possible to get the treatment you want. WISHOPE.org helps narrow options down, from outpatient to residential, from mental health services to addiction and behavioral health. "A lot of people don't know about or don't have access to professional resources they could use to improve their mental health and overall wellness," Brunzelle says. "As a society I would think that is a goal."


A Focus on Teens
Also consider how we can help stop an epidemic among our children and teens. For many reasons – academics, sports, music, relationships, gender, sexuality, online social networks – our communities are struggling to support our children as they navigate their formative years.

An organization near and dear to me is REDgen, a Milwaukee-based group fostering active community conversations around what it means to live a healthy, balanced life with authentic success. It was an idea born out of the duty of care after an increase in teen suicides. School and university educators, community members, interfaith leaders, and health professionals work together to host local events and promote local resources in the areas of resiliency education, mental health support and suicide prevention.

It is heartbreaking to know that mental illness is both preventable and treatable in adults, teens and children, but many individuals are prohibited by costs, denial, or fear. Help make a positive change for yourself, your family, or your community by tapping into these available resources.


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