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Dr. Kim Dennis, Insights and Therapy Blog

Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed since 1949; and yet, mental illness is still poorly understood and highly stigmatized in our country today. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people continue to believe that psychiatric disorders are “made up,”” instead of viewing them as very real, potentially fatal, brain diseases. The truth is mental illness deeply impacts all aspects of a person’s life—their relationships, identity and behaviors. 

Possibly the greatest hindrance to widespread understanding and acceptance of psychiatric disorders is that they cannot be seen physically (in many, but not all psychiatric illnesses). What’s more, unlike cancer or other medical diseases, mental illness cannot be identified via an x-ray or blood test.  Therefore, a man hobbling on crutches with a broken leg is shown mercy; bystanders might assist by opening doors or carrying items. Conversely, a woman lying in bed with crippling depression is often extended no mercy whatsoever; instead, she is perceived of as lazy and is encouraged to snap out of it. 

In fact, depression is very commonly misunderstood in today’s world, primarily by patients themselves who tend to blame themselves for having the illness or being lazy (these are distortions associated with the disease!), and also by the very people that are most supportive of those with other medical illnesses–doctors and family members. 

Often a mother, father, wife or husband incorrectly uses themselves and their own life experiences as a unilateral barometer. They may recall times when they felt sorrow or despair in their own lives. In time, the sorrow passed or the despair lifted. In other words, they ultimately “got over it.” Therefore, the tendency is to apply this same standard to the loved one who seemingly can no longer function. The problem is, the standard is not applicable. The individual weighed down by clinical depression can no more resiliently bounce back than the other family member can fly. The bottom line is this:  if they could, they would; but they can’t all on their own. Give the family member who can’t fly an airplane and a pilot and off they go. Give the family member with debilitating depression good care (therapy, medication, supportive community) and they can recover. 

What an individual struggling with depression, anxiety, or any one of the other myriad psychiatric disorders truly requires is treatment; for many people this includes medication, which can help with the physical aspects of what the brain needs to recover from depression. Regrettably, due to the ongoing stigma   associated with mental illness, people routinely fail to get the help they need. Sometimes they refuse to seek therapy due to the shame they feel about seeing a counselor or psychiatrist.  Certain segments of the population are particularly vulnerable to this fear of stigma. Those in the military frequently go untreated due to the fear of jeopardizing their careers. Mothers, afraid their children might be taken away by a social service agency, are also often reluctant to seek care. Professionals many times avoid treatment because they have a career to tend to. Doctors and nurses do likewise because it’s their job to take care of others, not to receive care themselves. 

Fortunately, due to initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness month, we have made strides in the area of eating disorders and substance use disorder. Today, the public has a greater understanding and appreciation for the complexity of these two illnesses. Now, if we can just promote greater comprehension surrounding other mental illnesses like depression and PTSD, perhaps the blame and stigma might be lifted and people could get the support they require and deserve. 


Values 

The world places a high value on certain things–money, happiness, thinness (sadly), comfort and security, to name a few. However, in our fervent efforts to pursue such conditions in our lives, we often neglect an essential underpinning to any living experience worth having:  values. When we live unconsciously, blind to our values our lives become unbalanced. The same is true for people who profess to value certain things, but their actions tell a very different story.

Lack of balance is rife throughout our society. The business man striving so hard to get to the top in order to make huge amounts of money–for noble reasons that are applauded by society–to pay the mortgage and keep his kids in private school.  The woman, who could easily be married to this man, who must be “perfect”: thin, industrious, beautiful, with equally perfect children involved in every possible after school sport and activity. READ MORE


The Problem With Parity: It Doesn’t Exist

The American public willingly exists under many myths:   the tooth fairy is real; love always lasts forever; one size fits all.  Belief in such myths is basically harmless. This one is not:  the myth of mental health parity. Far too many people labor under the notion that insurance coverage for mental health issues is equal to that for problems of a physical nature. After all, wasn’t that legislated by the federal government a while ago? Here’s the answer:  no. READ MORE


Gratitude – Not Always Easy To See, but Always There

Thanksgiving has come and gone with Christmas fast approaching. Many referred to this as the season of giving, which is certainly a fine concept. I like using this holiday as a season to intentionally practice gratitude, a practice that we may embrace right now then continue to develop a day at a time far into the New Year. READ MORE


A letter of hope for freedom, from an anonymous former patient of Dr Kim Dennis

I am 8 years sober when I land at Chicago O’Hare and I want to die. I am in ‘this place’ again, I am institutionalized again, I am hopeless again, I am wondering what the point is…again. I am sober. By some miracle of God (truly) I meet Kim – Pine Lodge, Group 2, Process Group. I am instantly hooked. I am baffled. She knows what she’s talking about. Not because she read it in a book…no, this woman has LIVED what I have lived. And she’s on the other side and incredibly successful. I want EVERYTHING she has. The success, sure, but mostly the peace. I am chasing the peace. I am forever changed by Timberline Knolls in Lemont, IL. I miss it every day. READ MORE


Children: Today’s Unseen Casualties

America is engaged in a war right now. One camp consists of doctors, parents, law enforcement, and many others. All are fighting the same enemy: opioid addiction. Whether this addiction is the result of heroin from Mexico or oxycontin from the local pharmacy, this disease is powerful, indefatigable and takes no prisoners. READ MORE


Using medication assisted therapy and 12 step to treat opioid addiction?

Everyone seems to agree that we have a profound opioid epidemic throughout our country. However, there remains a high level of controversy regarding how to treat opiate addiction. This is particularly the case when discussing medical assisted therapy (MAT) and 12-step facilitation.  READ MORE


Tell Me I’m Fat

A few weeks ago, This American Life, produced by Chicago Public Radio, ran an episode called “Tell Me I’m Fat.”  I was in my car, driving home from work, as the episode came on air: “The way people talk about being fat is shifting…maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat.”  READ MORE


Pain as a Vital Sign

The death rate from overdose of prescription narcotics now exceeds that of automobile accidents; and the number of overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has more than quadrupled since 1999. In order to understand the drastic rise in prescription opioid and heroin addiction over the past two decades, it’s important to consider contextual changes that have taken place simultaneously. READ MORE


A New Form of Bulimia: Pump Eliminates Need to Purge

Decades ago, patients had their mouths literally wired shut. Then came the era of the balloon inserted and inflated in the stomach to mimic the sensation of fullness. Then we moved into radical surgery that rerouted the gut altogether. The most recent attempt to achieve weight loss is the lap band, considered less invasive and still far short of a fail-proof miracle cure for most people. READ MORE

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Using a “Both, And” Approach and NOT an, “Either, Or” Approach to Treatment

…. For as essential as medication can be for many people in treatment, it alone is usually insufficient to keep a person in long-term, sustainable recovery.  There must be additional treatment components to address the myriad facets of the illness….READ MORE

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