Across the nation and here in Southeast Texas, people are looking at mental health and healthcare in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, May 2013.
“Today, tens of millions of Americans are living with the burden of a mental health problem,” President Barack Obama said in a statement proclaiming May as National Mental Health Month. “They shoulder conditions like depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder – debilitating illnesses that can strain every part of a person’s life. And even though help is out there, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. During National Mental Health Awareness Month, we shine a light on these issues, stand with men and women in need, and redouble our efforts to address mental health problems in America.”
Recent incidents around the area have brought mental health to the forefront of people’s minds. In particular, the arrest of one Nederland man who allegedly shot and killed his own mother and who reportedly had a history of mental illness.
According to the Nederland Police Department, officers arrested 26-year-old Nederland resident Joseph Garrett Arredondo on Wednesday, April 10, in relation to the homicide of 55-year-old Hollie Ann Arredondo, also of Nederland. Nederland Police Chief Darrell Bush said in an interview that NPD received a call at approximately 5:09 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, from a counselor with the Spindletop Center crisis hotline. The man reportedly told police he received a call from Hollie Arredondo who said her son, Joseph, was trying to break down the door to gain entry into her home. While the counselor was speaking with the woman, he reported to police that he heard a loud noise he believed to be the door being broken down and the connection was abruptly interrupted. Although police were unable to release information regarding the mental state of the assailant, at least one of his mother’s neighbors said Joseph Arredondo had a history of mental illness.
“Between 1 and 4 and 1 and 5 people will have a diagnosable mental illness within the course of any year ranging from milder forms of mental depression all the way up to people who are very ill and need to seek services at places like Spindletop Center,” said Spindletop Center representative Janna Fulbright, who has been accepting proclamations and speaking out about mental health around the Golden Triangle in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. The Spindletop Center, formerly Spindletop MHMR, which will soon open a health clinic at its South campus (see related story on page 6 C), serves people with mental illness, intellectual and developmental abilities, substance abuse issues and early child development delays in Jefferson, Orange, Hardin and Chambers counties. Fulbright appeared before the Jefferson County Commissioners Court on May 6 to accept a proclamation read by Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Sinegal.
Fulbright said after speaking at meetings, she is often approached by concerned parents or loved ones of people suffering with mental illness who do not know how to get help or what to do to make their loved ones feel better.
“After meetings like this, I am often met by people who pull me aside in private and say, ‘It’s my son,’ or ‘It’s my daughter,’ or ‘The person who came back from Afghanistan is not the boy I sent off to war … or the woman I sent off to war.’ This happens a lot, but people are still ashamed. You will stand up in church and tell everyone you have diabetes, but you’re not going to stand up in church, a lot of times, and say, ‘I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.’ People are still embarrassed, and we need to get over that stigma.”
County Judge Jeff Branick, who has dealt with numerous mental health cases in Jefferson County, commented regarding the state of mental healthcare locally and across the state.
“Most people don’t realize that we do about 2,000 involuntary commitments every year here in Jefferson County,” Branick said. “The venue in a mental health case is wherever the patient is found. Spindletop is the local mental health authority under state law. … We get a lot of patients from all over East and Southeast Texas that end up here in our county, and we handle those cases. It was to my embarrassment in the last couple of years that Texas has been ranked 50th in the 50 states — we’ve been last in spending for mental health per capita.”
Branick said although Texas is lagging behind all other states in spending allotted to mental healthcare, there is hope on the horizon.
“Fortunately, it looks as though the legislature is poised to increase our mental health spending for treatment and prevention. Things are looking up in this legislative session, more so than in other legislative sessions,” Branick said, addressing representatives from Spindletop at Jefferson County Commissioners Court. “I want to thank you for all the work that Spindletop does. It is an extremely tough job and often heartbreaking.”
Mental Health America is another group striving to bring attention to mental illness. Southeast Texas has one of the oldest affiliates in the United States and one of five in the state of Texas. MHASETX promotes mental health presentations offering topics on anti-bullying, choices, suicide prevention, and many more. MHA offers suicide prevention training, a suicide survivors support group, is active in public policy and advocacy. MHASETX was founded in 1945 and incorporated in 1960 as a 501c3 non-profit corporation. The group has led the “May is Mental Health Month” initiative to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of mental wellness since 1949, and May is now recognized as National Mental Health Month as a result, according to information from the organization.
The group’s theme this year in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month is “Pathways to Wellness,” which calls attention to strategies and approaches that help all Americans achieve wellness and good mental and overall health.
“Wellness is essential to living a full and productive life,” said Jayne Bordelon, executive director of Mental Health America of Southeast Texas. “We may have different ideas about what wellness means, but it involves a set of skills and strategies to prevent the onset or shorten the duration of illness and promote recovery and well-being. It’s about keeping healthy as well as getting healthy.”
Everyone is prone to stress, but Bordelon said there are ways of maintaining one’s wellness, including a person’s emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health. She said the path to wellness involves a balanced diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, a sense of self-worth, development of coping skills that promote resiliency, emotional awareness, and connections to family, friends and the community. These steps should be complemented by taking stock of one’s well-being through regular mental health checkups, according to Bordelon.
“Just as we check our blood pressure and get cancer screenings, it’s a good idea to take periodic stock of our emotional well-being. One recent study said everyone should get their mental health checked as often as they get a physical, and many doctors routinely screen for mental health, which typically include a series of questions about lifestyle, eating and drinking habits and mental wellness. But a checkup doesn’t necessarily require a special trip to the doctor. There are also online screening tools you can use. While conditions like depression are common — roughly 1 in 5 Americans have a mental health condition — they are extremely treatable.”
As for the more than 20 percent of Americans suffering from mental illness, help from the federal government could be available.
Federal Occupational Health (FOH) is a non-appropriated agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that provides occupational health and wellness services exclusively to federal employees. According to information from FOH, an estimated 22.1 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), mental health problems affect one in five young people.
“Recognizing the signs of mental illness is important. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, or sleep problems are not uncommon,” according to the FOH website. “However, when these feelings get very intense, last for long periods of time, or begin to interfere with school, friendships and other relationships, it may be a sign of a mental illness. Depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety, conduct, and eating disorders are all types of diagnosable mental disorders found in children. Although mental disorders in children are appearing more often, great advances have been made in the areas of diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.”
“Mental health problems remain a serious public health concern,” according to President Obama, “but together, our Nation is making progress. This month, I encourage all Americans to advance this important work by raising awareness about mental health and lending strength to all who need it.”
To learn more about mental health issues, FOH recommends visiting the websites of The National Mental Health Association at www.nmha.org  or the National Institute for Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/childmenu.cfm.
To find treatment services nearby, call (800) 662-HELP or 2-1-1. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers immediate assistance for all Americans, including service members and veterans, at (800) 273-TALK. The rape and suicide hotline number for the Crisis Center of Southeast Texas is (409) 835-3355 or (800) 7-WECARE.
The Spindletop Center and Mental Health America are hosting a Southeast Texas Mental Health Fair starting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at the Port Arthur Public Library at 4615 9th Avenue at Highway 73 in Port Arthur. Fulbright said she encourages people who want information about mental health to come out to the fair, pick up information and ask questions of professionals who care.
“We hope that people can overcome the stigma of mental illness and just find out some information,” she said. “What’s available?”
Attend the event and find out Tuesday, she said.