Preventable Killer: How to treat mental illness before it's too late

Preventable Killer: How to treat mental illness before it's too late

(WTOL) - September 18, 2013 is a day etched in Lindsay Williams's mind. It's the day she lost her 25-year-old brother Matthew.

"You can't call him on the phone, you won't see him get married," Lindsay said while holding back tears. "You just wish you could have done something, anything a little bit differently."

Matthew committed suicide, but before that he struggled for years with depression and mental illness.

"It's hard because you love that person so much, but you feel so helpless," Lindsay said.

According to the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Ohioans 25 to 44 years old. And 70 percent are carried out by white males.

"As a woman, I don't think I understood all the challenges that my brother or my dad or anyone really faces. You're not supposed to cry, you're supposed to be tough, you're supposed to be the quarterback, you're supposed to be all these things," Lindsay said.


So what are some of the signs a person may be thinking about suicide? Professionals say:

  • Seeming withdrawn
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in eating habits
  • A sudden interest in death or self-harm
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

Jodi Hepler runs a support group for families who've lost a loved one to suicide.

"People are very inconsiderate and ignorant about suicide," Jodi said.

She started the group after her only brother took his own life several years ago.

"His pain was so great that he couldn't think of anything but that pain," she said.

Jodi believes one of the biggest challenges to preventing suicide is getting people to talk about it, and treating it like any other disease.

"If you've got cancer or you've got heart disease untreated, it's eventually going to take you," she said. "That is the same with mental illness."

Doctor Victoria Kelly is a psychiatrist in Sylvania. She said suicide is 100 percent avoidable with the right treatment, and she encourages families who see warning signs to take action.

"They should definitely encourage their loved one to get help, professional help," Dr. Kelly said.

Where to turn

But where do people get that help?

Nearly 80 percent of anti-depressants are prescribed by primary care physicians. But is your family doctor equipped to treat mental health issues?

A recent study published in the journal Health Affairs revealed 8 out of 10 family physicians don't feel adequately prepared to treat mental health.

Doctor Linda Speer teaches family medicine at the University of Toledo medical school. She's training future primary care docs how to better treat mental health symptoms. She says one of the barriers to treating it is the negative perception associated with it.

"Lots of people who get their care in the primary care setting are reluctant to go to a mental health setting, they find it stigmatizing," Speer said.

She says med schools are now working on a better referral system to get mental health patients the proper care.

"Incorporating those services into the primary care setting should enhance access to those services with less stigma," she said.

So what should you do if you suspect your loved one is suffering from mental illness or thoughts of suicide?

  • Ask them about it
  • Take their answers seriously
  • Seek help from a mental health professional
  • Reach out to support groups

Robin Isenberg is the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization that provides free support for people dealing with the hardships of mental illness.

"We're good listeners here," Robin said. "We won't let anybody walk out of here without some options."

One of those options is a free app you can download on your phone. It's called "R U OK" and it provides a lifeline for someone who's thinking about committing suicide.

It's these types of tools that can help stop this preventable killer and save lives, like those of Lindsay and Jodi's brothers.

"Pay attention to signs don't let anything go unattended to," Lindsay said.

"I loved my brother very much and I want one less family to have to through what we went through," Jodi said.

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