Stillwater News Press

Local News

September 30, 2012

Mental health issues grow across the United States

STILLWATER, Okla. — Sandrel Jones-Webster’s husband was different than most. He constantly checked locks, had difficulty reading emotions, stayed up all hours of the night and sometimes was bed ridden for days with crippling depression.

The brilliant Oklahoma State professor’s colleagues called it eccentric. Jones-Webster knew it was bipolar.

It isn’t a scary word to her.

“You have to let go of the expectations of who you thought that person was going to be and accept the person as they are,” Jones-Webster said. “I loved all of him and accepted his illness.”

Bear, the name Jones-Webster calls her husband, had an agile mind. He went to college in New York and got his master’s degree in Chicago but something changed when his father died. Jones-Webster said the trauma triggered his mental illness. Bear disappeared from academia and everyone he knew to roam the streets of Los Angeles for seven years.

One day he snapped back. He attended the University of California Los Angeles and eventually obtained his doctorate and a teaching position at University of Pennsylvania where he met Jones-Webster. The two were soon married and living in Stillwater but life was not always easy. Bear would slip in and out of dark depression and productive mania. Some days he wouldn’t leave his bed and other days he would stay awake all night working on papers and doing research.

In 2003, after a  history of several suicide attempts, Bear took his own life.

“It’s been nine years but I miss him a lot and I would have him back in a heartbeat if I could,” Jones-Webster said.

Since her husband’s death, she has been working tirelessly to provide support for those affected by mental illness as president of the North Central Oklahoma chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental Health Awareness Week starts Oct. 7 across the United States.

The group offers support for those diagnosed with mental illnesses and their families. Support groups for bipolar, schizophrenia and depression meet each month to share experiences and help each other cope. The group also works to educate the community about mental illness and connect individuals the the right organizations in Payne County.

One of them, Edwin Fair Community Mental Health Center,  serves those with little or no income and a severe mental illness. County Coordinator of Mental Health Services Gina Clark said Edwin Fair provides counseling, therapy and education for adults and children.

“It’s for folks without any options,” Clark said. The organization helps connect its clients with government programs, grief groups, art classes — anything to help improve their quality of life.

One of the biggest hurdles facing the mentally ill is housing, Clark said. There is very little assisted housing in Payne County.

“There are waiting lists two years long,” Clark said, explaining many become overwhelmed by the process of trying to get housing and give up or some have a history of felonies or being a bad tenant, which can also hurt their chances. This has resulted in a large mentally ill homeless population.

Clark said 80 percent of the people the center sees abuse drugs or alcohol. She said it is often hard to determine if the substance is fueling the illness or vice versa. The important thing is to treat both simultaneously.

Some of the biggest challenges to treating mental illness is a lack of education and stigma. Clark said people can have a difficult time admitting they may have a mental illness, are in denial or don’t even know there may be a problem. She said it is extremely important for family members to surround those diagnosed with an illness with support.

“Let them know you are going to walk with them through this journey of recovery,” Clark said.

Another area resource for mental health is North Care Center. Clinical Director Sarah Rahhal said people need to take care of their mental health in the same way they take care of their physical health. Isolation, lack of sleep and poor coping skills can all be detrimental.

Poor mental health is a massive problem in America, Rahhal said. Nearly 58 million Americans have a mental illness. High stress, fragmented communities and seeing constant trauma are all things Rahhal believes contribute to America having the highest instance of mental health disorders.

The solution is to train one’s mind like training the body.

“In the same way you exercise, eat right, and sleep to maintain physical health, one must have good support to maintain mental health,” Rahhal said. Part of that is reducing the stigma and shame many feel when speaking about mental health problems.

Rahhal hopes in coming years speaking about depression, bipolar and schizophrenia will become less taboo.

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