Having behavioral-health problem? Don’t wait to get help

Bing online dictionary defines “symptom” as: “indication of illness felt by patient: an indication of a disease or other disorder, especially one experienced by the patient, e.g. pain, dizziness or itching, as opposed to one observed by the doctor.”

So, how long does it take from the time symptoms start to get help? With symptoms of a common cold, relief can be found at the nearest supermarket or pharmacy; over-the-counter remedies are as abundant as they are accessible. So on average, I would guess from the time of the first sneeze or cough until the first swig of medicine, we’re looking at about an hour.

With symptoms of cardiac or other emergency distress, 911 is typically called, and help arrives quickly. Perhaps an average 10 to 20 minutes or so from the onset of symptoms until help arrives, depending on the location of the patient. Shooting pain from a tooth? Most of us will deal with this symptom for only as long as it takes for the dentist can get us in. How about a torn knee ligament on the ski hill? Most likely, we will get that treated as soon as possible.

What about symptoms of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other behavioral-health conditions? Interestingly, we wait 10 years on average from the onset of symptoms until we get treatment. Why do we wait? One answer is stigma, as defined by the online dictionary as, “sign of social unacceptability: the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable.”

It’s true that our culture has not been (historically) accepting of behavioral-health conditions. That being said, I wonder how we can still consider these conditions to be socially unacceptable – especially when they are so prevalent nowadays. As evidence of the widespread nature of behavioral health conditions, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports an estimated 26.2 percent of adults, or about 1 in 4, experience a diagnosable mental disorder every year. What are the consequences of waiting 10 years? Unfortunately, as with any issue, the longer we wait to get treatment, the greater likelihood we have of developing advanced symptoms.

However, as with other illnesses, the good news is that early intervention and treatment has proved effective in treating behavioral-health conditions. As I often write in this column, Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based set of skills that have proved to be effective in lessening the time between the start of symptoms and getting help.

For more information about MHFA, you can visit National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare at www.thenationalcouncil.org. Locally, Axis Health System provides MHFA training. To sign up for an upcoming training or to find out more information, call Liza Fischer, MHFA training coordinator, at 259-2615.

Additionally, NAMI provides support for families of people in recovery from behavioral-health conditions. For more information about NAMI, including contact information for local and statewide resources, visit www.namicolorado.org.

Recovery can start at any time – there’s no need to wait.

Mark White is director of quality for Axis Health System. Reach him at mwhite@axishealthsystem.org or 335-2217.