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Early Detection for Mental Illness Is a Must

06/22/2015 12:26 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
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Some people afflicted by mental illness will not cope. At the very least, they may be unable to find or remain in a job. At the very worst, however, someone with a mental illness will be fighting for life; each day a desperate attempt to survive while the waves of mental agony cripple and suffocate.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, sufferers of diagnosed psychiatric disorders are 90 per cent more likely to be victims of suicide. Other people with a mental illness will lead normal, productive lives. They will marry, have children, raise families, become educated, travel, and manage to successfully complete one day, and feel well enough to begin the next one.

Through proper medical care, attentive support systems, regimented medication reviews and more importantly, early detection of mental illnesses and relapses targeted at children and families, mental illness can minimally affect the lives of everyone it touches.

This shouldn't be of surprise and yet, it will be. Early detection of mental illness will be viewed by many as unnecessary, if not farcical. Today in Canada, 6.7 million people have a mental illness while 2.2 million are type 2 diabetics.

We live in a culture where emotional breakdowns are misunderstood and mental illness is often not even referred to as an illness. But just like early detection gives a patient better odds of beating cancer, the same is true for mental illness. But of course that rarely happens in a society where those with mental illness are taught to remain silent about their symptoms, that it is best to refrain from telling anyone about the voices in their head, that calling in sick means you have the flu, not Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In this world of secrets, early detection is not often an option. And yet, mental disorders, like all physical illnesses, can manifest as early as childhood. ADHD, mood and anxiety disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and behavioural disorders can be treated and managed if diagnosed early enough. Without the early diagnosis and treatment, children will not have the same opportunities as kids who are healthy. Developmental issues can arise and will continue into adulthood in the form of substance abuse, difficulty maintaining family ties, social issues, violence, and suicide. To further reiterate this last fact, according to the Children's Mental Health Ontario, "Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death (after accidents) among 10-19 year olds."

This is an astronomical rate which is preventable with early diagnosis and psychiatric involvement, so why is early detection not done as frequently and diligently as it is for those suffering from cancer? Quite frankly, I'm baffled. As the mother of a child who exhibited signs and symptoms of ADD from an early age, I sought advice from teachers, school psychologists and physicians. I was repeatedly told that my son would outgrow it.

When my son was 14 years old, I finally found a physician who did not belittle my theory, but rather began testing him, and subsequently prescribed medication. My son's life was quite literally changed that afternoon. If a child or adult experiences physical pain, it does not take years of badgering medical professionals to determine the source of the pain.

In my son's case, medical professionals and teachers were consulted from the time he was six years old, and the consensus was that he was simply being a boy, and boys are rowdy. Had he been assessed at that same age with an obvious ache or apparent lump, it would not have taken eight years for testing and diagnosis. Undiagnosed or untreated ADHD and ADD is a serious problem. Children are more likely to drop out and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Thirty to sixty per cent of these teenagers will continue to exhibit their behaviours into adulthood. They will have difficulty attaining an adequate level of education or finding employment. But none of this mattered to the professionals I had been consulting for years because it is far easier to label the child than it is to acknowledge the mental illness.

It is not those who are able to function in their day-to-day lives that are confronted by the onslaught of negativity regarding their respective diagnoses, but rather those who have not received proper care or were diagnosed when issues were already too monumental to surpass. These are the people who are unable to leave their homes. These are the people who are continuously admitted onto the psychiatric ward. And they are the ones unable to function in an environment which doesn't take into account their diverse emotional limits.

Twenty one per cent of workplace employees are fighting a mental illness which affects not only their productivity but also their ability to successfully manage their responsibilities. Thirty per cent of short and long-term disability claims are related to mental illness. Years of psychiatric involvement might allow for a slow and methodical introduction to workplace programs, however unfamiliar and potentially stressful situations could essentially continue to plague the sufferer.

In order to allow for assimilation into mainstream social settings conducive to improving quality of life, the best prevention is early diagnosis and treatment. The Canadian Cancer Society has entire subsections titled "Finding Cancer Early," and we are all in agreement that this is valuable information. And yet, at this point in our quest to break down the harsh, negative stereotypes of mental illness, sadly, such a slogan would be mocked more than it would be cheered.

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