‘I feel like I’m suffering alone a lot of the time:’ Discussing mental illness with NAMI St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

‘I feel like I’m suffering alone a lot of the time:’ Discussing mental illness with NAMI St. Louis

May 25, 2016

Even in 2016, talking about mental health is hard to do. There’s a persistent stigma about mental illness and it is hard to know when and what to say or do. What steps are being made to reduce the stigma? What are the signs of mental illness? What resources are available for those who deal with mental illness in their day-to-day lives?

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed these questions with representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) St. Louis.

Joyce Johnston, the director of programs for NAMI St. Louis.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

“The biggest challenge in the field today is a lack of psychiatrists and a lack of funding to help people who are unemployed or don’t have a lot of income,” said Joyce Johnston, the director of programs for NAMI St. Louis. “It is very difficult for them to get services, medications or go into the hospital. That’s a huge thing and then they don’t get the treatment and they get worse.”

It is estimated that one in five people are affected by mental illness. There are a variety of mental illnesses that affect people — from schizophrenia to anxiety — and Dr. Ahsan Khan, a psychiatrist with Saint Louis University Hospital, said that certain disorders can be treated episodically and others that are chronic and life-long.

“Let’s talk about depression, for example. Depression is very common,” said Khan. “It affects almost seven percent of the U.S. population at any given time or any year. … Depression is very treatable. The challenge is about getting the right treatment at the right time.”

Mike Eisenbath, a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist and board member with NAMI, said he has dealt with depression himself.

“Even though we can treat depression and we can give a lot of people help from it, there are a number of us for whom medication really doesn’t work. I’ve tried about everything on the market, and I get some relief, but I definitely have not been cured or put into remission. I’ve received shock treatment, that helped in a mild way … and I’m frankly in a pretty difficult episode and it is difficult to get out of bed.”

Eisenbath said that many people respond to this kind of admission by saying “Well, just get out of bed.” He said it is not as simple as that.

“I think what I’ve come to realize is, there are so many people out there suffering that don’t have anyone who understands,” Eisenbath said. “Fortunately, for me, I have people who understand. And even then I feel like I’m suffering alone a lot of the time.”

That suffering often goes unnoticed because discussing mental illness is often swept under the rug.

Dr. Ahsan Khan, a psychiatrist with Saint Louis University Hospital.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

“Stigma is a terrible barrier for people to receive care and continue with their treatment. When you tell someone you have a mental illness, you get odd reactions,” Johnston said. “Also, many people are working and in school and doing all kinds of productive things in their lives. You would never know they have a mental illness. They never disclose it.”

Listen to the full discussion, which covers mental health in terms of policing, prison, veterans, higher education, African American communities and more:

Related Event

What: 2016 St. Louis NAMIWalk
When: Saturday, May 28 from 8:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Where: Upper Muny Parking Lost in Forest Park
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St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.