The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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July 14, 2013

Symptoms of mental illness vary in adults, children

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series examining the state of mental health services in Limestone County and in Alabama. Part two will appear in next Sunday’s edition of The News Courier.

On a recent Friday evening, two reports on the local police scanner called for assistance with people apparently suffering from the effects of mental illness — one incident involved a young teenager reportedly suffering from an anxiety attack at a restaurant, while the other was a possible suicide attempt by a middle-age adult at a residence.

Once emergency responders treat the physical effects of a mentally ill person involved in an incident, what happens next in the treatment process? In Limestone County, patients with serious cases can be referred to Decatur Morgan West Campus, a 64-bed psychiatric facility, while those arrested for a crime are booked into the Limestone County Jail. Others can seek private assistance or be referred to a community service provider that contracts with the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

To address the growing need for more information about mental health needs and resources, The News Courier is partnering with Athens State University to sponsor a Mental Health Forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 30, in the Sandridge Student Center ballroom on the ASU campus. Education, health, government and law enforcement officials will participate in the forum, and the public is invited.

“First and foremost, we want to bring awareness about the services that are available. It will be the responsibility of all those involved in the forum to identify mental health issues, and to identify what can be done,” said Lisa Coleman, clinical director of the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama and a participant in a mental health forum workshop held Feb. 28 in Athens.

By the numbers

Coleman said Limestone adults are among the one in four Americans nationwide that suffer from psychiatric disorders each year. Coleman said 61.5 million people are expected to experience mental illness in any given year.

In a study spanning 2005 to 2011, the Centers for Disease Control reported that as many as one in five children ages 3 to 17 have a specific mental disorder, with the top five listed as attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder, behavior or conduct problems, anxiety, depression and autism spectrum disorders.

The ADMH’s Division of Mental Illness Services serves more than 100,000 Alabama residents annually, with state-operated facilities treating approximately 5 percent and certified community providers handling the 95 percent remaining cases.

The Mental Health Center, which serves Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties, is a state-contracted community provider and a nonprofit agency based in Decatur that operates satellite offices in Moulton and Athens.

The Athens-Limestone Counseling Center, located at 1307 E. Elm St., serves more than 250 children and nearly 800 adults in a typical month, according to ALCC data. Coleman, who has worked in the mental health field for 22 years, said there has not been a noticeable spike in the number of Limestone residents seeking assistance in the past three years.

“In Athens, the population we serve has grown significantly over the years, and we’re very proud that people are seeking services. When we saw the recession in 2008, we did see numbers going up, but now that people are losing jobs and have no funding sources, there’s hasn’t been much change in the month-to-month numbers,” she said. “In the past three years, the numbers have been pretty stable but this year we’re seeing a lower number of admissions. It’s on our radar to find out why, and we want to bring awareness about our services during the forum because approximately half of the (general population) do not seek mental health services, and 60 percent of adults with mental illnesses receive no help.”

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