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Removing mental illness’ stigma

Psychiatrist speaks about suicide prevention

By Angie Landsverk

Getting rid of the stigma associated with mental illness will help people get the treatment they need.

That was among the messages of Dr. Adam Strassberg when he presented “Mental Health Treatment Without Shame or Blame” on Sept. 21, at Waupaca High School.

He said mental illness is not a moral weakness.

“Mental illness is common. Mental illness is stigmatized. We don’t talk enough about it,” said Strassberg, an outpatient psychiatrist who has a private practice based in Palo Alto, California.

The Waupaca County Suicide Prevention Coaltion sponsored Strassberg’s talk with funding from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region Inc., Ministry Health Care and ThedaCare.

This was the second consecutive year the coalition sponsored a community presentation during National Suicide Prevention Month.

In 2014, there were 10 suicides in Waupaca County. There have been four this year.

Strassberg has been working as a pyschiatrist for about 15 years and is the father of two teenagers.

“Most of my patients are people just like me. They have jobs. They have families. They have mortgages,” Strassberg said.

With about one-half of all mental illness emerging by age 14 and three-quarters by age 21, he stressed the importance of parents talking openly about any treatment they seek instead of talking about in a hushed way.

“Normalize and destigmatize mental illness,” Strassberg said.

His presentation included information about the different causes of mental illness, including biological, environmental, psychological and situational factors.

The two major treatment options are medications and pyschotherapy, he said.

Strassberg said less than half of those who are 18 to 25 seek treatment.

Some say they cannot afford treatment, while others question if it will help or worry about confidentiality.

“A lot of these reasons all relate to stigma,” he said.

Strassberg said Buzz Aldrin, Winston Churchill, Thomas Nash and Lionel Aldridge are among the famous people who have had mental illness.

“Despite so many famous people with mental illness, the media continues to portray mental illness in a negative way,” Strassberg said.

He said it is important to not confuse mental illness with evil.

Strassberg said most people who commit crimes and violent acts are not mentally ill. Rather, those who have mental illness are often the ones who are victimized.

Suicide was also a topic during his presentation.

“One-third of people don’t tell anyone,” he said.

Suicide warning signs include talking about killing oneself, depression, a loss in interests, rage, irritability, engaging in more risky behaviors, acting recklessly. sleeping too much or too little, saying good-bye to people and giving away possessions.

To the parents of teens, he urged them to model taking care of their own mental health.

Strassberg also talked about sleep.

“Teens should sleep more than us,” he said. “They should be sleeping eight hours per night. Teenagers do not get enough sleep.”

Therefore, later school start times are better for that age group, he said.

Physical activity and pets are also important, and he told parents to model tolerance of sexual and gender diversity.
Strassberg also told them to talk directly to their teenaged children about suicide.

“It’s been studied. When you talk with someone openly about suicide, it decreases the risk,” he said.

Striving for at least one family meal per week should be a goal, and he encouraged families to create a “kitchen table culture” in their homes, where everyone sits together to talk and do homework instead of the children going into their bedrooms.

“Balance unstructured versus structured time,” Strassberg said.

In addition, he told parents to not keep guns in their homes.

Realizing many people in the area hunt, he said, “I have to recommend it.”

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