Inside Kentucky Health
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences a mental illness in a given year. To raise awareness during May, which has been known as Mental Health Month since 1949, those in the business of treating and helping those individuals are using the hashtag #mentalillnessfeelslike throughout social media.
Jean Henry, who was recently named Executive Director of NAMI-Louisville, said one goal of the campaign is awareness.
“We want to stop the stigma of mental illness,” she said. “People with mental illness suffer because of people’s attitudes and ignorance of the issue.”
Henry, a licensed clinical social worker who has been working with those affected by mental illness and addiction for three decades, is also concerned about governments and insurance companies recognizing mental illness as a disease.
“Mental illness is a brain disorder for which people need treatment,” she said. “Insurance companies often limit the number of days people are eligible for treatment. You wouldn’t do that with heart disease or another serious problem.”
In a 2012 NAMI report, Kentucky received an “F” for its mental illness health care system, one of only six states to get such a grade. NAMI said the state suffered from inadequate funding and a fragmented system that makes it difficult for patients and their families to get information.
“Treatment organizations often can’t communicate with families, because of HIPAA regulations, and the patients often have difficulties with the system,” she said.
Henry said there is some progress being made, including the formation of a Crisis Intervention Team with the Louisville Metro Police Department that helps those with serious mental health issues access medical treatment rather than being placed in the criminal justice system for illness-related behaviors.
Partners in the program include Louisville Fire and EMS, along with treatment facilities including Our Lady of Peace, Seven Counties Services, and The Brook Hospital.
Nationally, 20 percent of state prisoners suffer from a mental health condition, and 70 percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have one.
Despite the efforts of multiple organizations, it is estimated that just 41 percent of adults with a mental health condition get treatment for it.
Henry said that NAMI’s focus in Louisville is on education, support and advocacy for individuals and families with mental illness.