Talking About Mental Health

Human brain function represented by red and blue gears in the shape of a head representing the symbol of mental health and neurological functioning in patients with a depression disability.

"An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older—about one in four adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year."The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America

I don't know about you, but I'm startled by the fact that over 400,000 adult residents of Seattle-King County have experienced a mental disorder in the past year. Reading further, the article referenced above explains that about 6 percent of our population (1 in 17) suffer from a serious mental illness. In King County, that's 95,000 people.

Mental disorders take many forms, including a variety of anxiety, mood, personality, attention deficit, autism spectrum and eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Mood disorders include depression—the online article explains that 6.7 percent of the U.S. population suffers from a major depressive disorder in any given year.

According to their most recent annual report, the Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division of King County Department of Community and Human Services serves approximately 25,000 adults every year. Others are served by private physicians and counselors. Others go untreated.

Cognitive disorders—including Alzheimer's—is in a different category. According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease in 2013 (five million people age 65 and older and 200,000 individuals under age 65). The prevalence of dementia among older residents of the U.S. is growing rapidly. The Alzheimer's Association estimates a 40 percent increase by 2025 and that, by 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease will nearly triple. See Alzheimer's Facts and Figures for more data.

Despite new advances in brain research, there's still so much we don't know about mental and behavioral health. And many people don't want to talk about it. We must.

Whether we experience symptoms of depression or dementia or watch decline in a spouse or other family member, many of us are grasping for information—tips and tools that may make life better. The March issue of AgeWise King County focuses on mental health, with articles on brain health, depression, and caregiver support and links to programs and services that can help.

Last month, the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services (ADS) meeting featured Bob LeRoy, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of Western and Central Washington, who helped us better understand Alzheimer's and other dementias. To offer even more information to the public, Mr. LeRoy offered to participate in a community health forum on Friday, March 14, 2014 at The Central (500 30th Avenue South, Seattle). If this topic interests you, please plan to attend our Alzheimer's 101 Health Fair.

Alzheimer's is one of many conditions that require a person to receive regular care, whether from a professional caregiver or a family member, friend or neighbor. Caregiving is a hot topic right now, as evidenced by the Washington Post Live Caregiving in America forum in Seattle (read about it here) and a host of conferences in the next few months.

But what happens when it's the caregiver, not the care receiver, who needs extra support? Three examples in When Caregivers Worry About Their Own Mental Health make it easy to understand why the state and federal governments help us provide caregiver support services. Caregivers must remain healthy in order to support their loved ones, help them remain home and as independent as possible, and avoid costly institutional care. Family caregivers are the true backbone of our long-term care system. As former First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said, "There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."

On a somewhat different topic, I want to thank the Area Agency on Aging advisory council members—from our area and across Washington state—who participated in Senior Lobby Day on Thursday, February 20, 2014, organized by the Washington State Senior Citizens' Lobby. We were effective in communicating concerns about services funded by the state's Senior Citizens Services Act, long-term care, transportation, Medicaid funding, and our tax system. Learn more in Doug Ricker's article, Advisory Council Members Make Some Noise on "Quiet" Lobby Day.

Stay connected, talk about real issues, make some noise!

—Contributor Tony Provine is serving his second term as chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services.