Mental health expert urges people to seek help early

SURREY — There are a lot of misconceptions about mental health issues and particularly about the connection between mental health problems and crime.

Anthony Neptune, manager of rehabilitation and recovery services at Fraser Health, explained that mental health covers a large gamut of problems, from those that are common, mild and easily treatable to those that are more unusual and severe.

The issue was brought to the forefront late last year with the record number of homicides in Surrey, and the beating death of Julie Paskall in particular. A recent survey pegged crime and safety as the top concern locally, and the health authority wants to reassure people that the perceived connection between mental health and crime doesn’t really match reality.

If all mental health issues were mapped onto a triangle, the majority – with the greatest number of people affected – are in the wide band at the bottom.

“Your anxiety disorders and the depression are the things that are the larger numbers,” Neptune said. “As you start to go up, you start to see, as you’re thinking of that triangle, it becomes less about the diagnosis. Definitely there are smaller percentages of people that get diagnosed with psychosis.”

Most things, such as anxiety and depression, are quite treatable and there are many services available for these.

Where things get complicated, Neptune said, is when a person with an untreated illness either refuses to seek treatment for a long time or has accompanying substance misuse, or in the worst case scenario, both.

“What starts to happen around a really significant and severe addiction or substance misuse issue and… some really significant symptoms from the mental illness and those things coming together and those are the individuals that you start seeing that are going to require more intensive supports and that’s the piece that’s a very, very small percentage of the overall population, but unfortunately, that small percentage of course is the one that generates the most activity” and gets the most negative attention.

Neptune said Fraser Health’s philosophy focuses less on diagnosis and more on helping people develop the support network and coping skills needed to live fully engaged lives and contribute to society.

A big factor is encouraging people to seek help as soon as they begin to notice something is amiss.

“We want those people to be seeking help because we know that the sooner that we’re able to get that person connected with resources and connected with supports, the less likely you have that cascading effect of things falling apart,” said Neptune.

The most common signs of early issues are when a person is no longer able to do the regular daily activities they used to do, not being able to concentrate, depression that lasts for a long time and is no longer connected to whatever incident first triggered it, or things like feeling quite anxious or panicky.

“We absolutely want people to be reaching out and there are a number of different organizations and groups that are out there that can support them.”

One option, Neptune said, is to contact “your local mental health centre so that you can go through a process with one of our clinical staff and they will do an assessment and they will ask some questions and they will determine what is it that’s going on for you right now.”

He also urged people to make use of the Fraser Health Crisis Line (604-951-8855), which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The trained volunteers who man the line can help problem solve or connect people with other support services.

“The other thing about the crisis line that I don’t know if people know is that if you have someone you’re concerned about, you can call the crisis line and talk to them about that if it’s the middle of the night.”

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