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Mental health, mental illness discussed at workshop

Columbia Basin Herald - 5/23/2018

May 23--Print Article

MOSES LAKE -- What happened to Tyler Paris happens to a lot of people with mental illnesses -- he first got sick as a young adult. Brandi Engel said she had struggled with mental illness most of her life, although it wasn't until she became an adult that she realized it. Paris and Engel shared their experiences at a workshop designed to increase awareness of mental illness and mental health, the help available for families and individuals, and how they can access that help.

The workshop was sponsored by the Samaritan Healthcare Foundation. Gretchen Youngren, the foundation's director, said about 150 people attended.

Tyler Paris, his parents Dale and Patti, and friends made a video about their story. Engel talked about some of the things she had learned in a separate session.

Tyler Paris, now 36, first showed symptoms about the time he finished high school. Eventually he was diagnosed as bipolar, but getting the diagnosis and the right medication took a long time. Paris said he sometimes wondered why he became ill. "Well, I don't know the answer to that. As of yet." But it's important -- in fact, it's crucial -- for people to understand what the problem is, and face what the problem is. A truthful and realistic assessment is the only way a mentally ill person will get the help they need, Paris said.

Engel, 44, also was diagnosed as bipolar, and read a list of things she has learned as she coped with the disease. It can't be cured, she said, and it doesn't go away -- in fact, hers has gotten worse. She has to pay attention to herself and how she's acting, and be honest with herself and others about what's going on. She has to take responsibility for her illness and treatment, she said. She has to forgive herself for words or actions that occurred while she was ill. The most important rule, however, is that "in all of this, I am not unique in my madness."

People who are mentally ill are special -- but not so special they are by themselves, she said. "We are not alone."

Because it's an illness, families and patients often start the process of finding out what's wrong with a family physician, and sometimes in the emergency room. A "fair amount" of acute psychiatric cases come through Samaritan's ER, said Mike Leedom, an ER nurse and workshop panelist.

Mental illness does have, or can have, some physical side effects. Tyler Paris said he sometimes stayed awake for days at a time. Engel said she attempted to treat her symptoms with alcohol -- which didn't work.

Pediatric physician Elaine Peterson said parents should pay attention to abrupt and substantial behavior changes. Primary care physician Andrea Carter said that's true for adults as well. If a kid loved to play sports and suddenly stops, or was outgoing and suddenly withdraws, those could be signs of a deeper problem, Peterson said.

Carter said it's okay to talk to people about how they're feeling. But a question that's too direct might not get an answer. It's most important to get the person talking to someone they trust, she said.

Doctors and other medical providers do have training that can help them when diagnosing mental illness, said physician assistant Bob Ebel. Once a diagnosis has been worked out, there are services available, said Renee Ballinger, Washington Department of Social and Health Services. But it can take a while to access them, Ebel said.

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