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VOL. 128 | NO. 133 | Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Removing Stigmas

La Paloma increases mental health options with outpatient center

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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Mental illness and addiction are common in the Mid-South and the rest of the nation, but about 60 percent of Americans don’t receive treatment.

Kyrstan Anderson, director of mental health provider La Paloma Outpatient Services in East Memphis, says addiction to prescription pain medication is more common than cancer.  

(Daily News/Andrew Breig)

Nationally, about one in five Americans experienced mental illness in the past year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations National Survey on Drug Use and Health released in January 2012. Only about four in 10 people experiencing mental illness received treatment in the last year, the survey also found.

Kyrstan Anderson, director of mental health provider La Paloma Treatment Center’s Outpatient Services in East Memphis, said mental health conditions still tend to be stigmatized in the Mid-South compared to other common chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma and heart disease. That’s in spite of research that shows medical conditions often lead to mental disorders or vice versa.

“Maybe we are still a little closed-minded about the issue,” she said. “Everyone knows someone who is dealing with one of these conditions, but there is still a stigma.”

Stigma isn’t the only obstacle to getting treatment for many Mid-South residents. About 40 percent of adults with a substance abuse disorder also have a mental health disorder, data from SAMHSA show. While intensive in-patient treatment is effective at treating coexisting disorders, many patients lack the resources to pay for those services, Anderson said.

Research from SAMHSA shows only 7.4 percent of adults suffering from a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder received treatments for both disorders, and more than half – 55.8 percent – received no treatment at all.

La Paloma already operates an intensive in-patient treatment center in Memphis, but the mental health provider recently launched an outpatient center in East Memphis for patients who prefer a more flexible setting or can’t afford intensive in-patient treatment. Intensive outpatient services also are part of a natural progression in the continuum of care when patients complete in-patient services and can help prevent a relapse, Anderson said.

The La Paloma outpatient center offers an intensive integrated treatment program for treating mental disorders and chemical dependency and a stress management program for chronic pain sufferers.

Intensive outpatient treatment isn’t appropriate for patients who have long-term addictions to substances like alcohol that can cause life-threatening withdrawal, but it can be a good option for patients addicted to drugs like heroin, morphine, codeine, Oxycontin and methadone – which can be uncomfortable and painful, but not life-threatening, Anderson said.

“It can be more challenging, but you are forced to live life on life’s terms, including all the daily stressors,” Anderson said. “Many of our patients have lost their purpose and their way. Helping them realize their purpose and that things can get better, is critical.”

Addiction to prescription painkillers and opiates is increasingly widespread in Memphis, she said. Many patients think prescription painkillers and other opiates are safe because they’ve legally obtained a prescription from a physician – but they can quickly become addicted and use the drugs to mask both physical and mental conditions, Anderson explained.

Prescription drug misuse is second only to marijuana as the nation’s most prevalent illicit drug problem, according to SAMHSA. Some 22 million Americans have abused pain relief medications since 2002, SAMHSA data show. From 1999 to 2010, a division of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found a 400 percent increase in misuse of prescription painkillers.

“Opiate addiction is more common than cancer,” Anderson said. “Your brain tends to recognize what feels good and before you know it, you need more of it and you realize you get a bit of a buzz from taking it.”

Anderson said opiate addiction often starts innocuously. A patient with cancer or recovering from surgery might initially begin taking pain relief medication to cope with pain, but find they soon need the medication to cope with everyday stressors long after they have recovered from the initial surgery or cancer treatment.

“It’s an equal opportunity disease – it can strike everyone from the upper-middle class to the low income,” she said.

The La Paloma Outpatient program offers group-oriented programs with staff and peer support, psychiatric evaluation and assessment, medication management and life skills classes and group therapy integrated with 12-step principles. The center also will help refer patients to other treatment programs when La Paloma isn’t the right fit, Anderson said. The center also offers family outreach and education.

“We are no different than other cities, but the more we talk about it – even if it’s an uncomfortable experience – we can increase people’s quality of life,” she said.

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