Upcoming Lunch and Learn Panelist: The Mental Health Epidemic in Palm Beach County Impacts Almost All of Us

Leon Fooksman
Leadership Palm Beach County
February 24, 2016

Upcoming Lunch and Learn Panelist: The Mental Health Epidemic in Palm Beach County Impacts Almost All of Us


On March 29, our next Lunch and Learn will explore: The Mental Health Epidemic in Palm Beach County.


Mental illness is a very real problem in our community. Fact: there is a 1 in 4 chance that each of us will, at some point, meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness. Fact: those seeking an initial psychiatric appointment often wait six weeks for their first visit.


One of our panelists, Marsha Martino, the executive director of NAMI of Palm Beach County, describes how stigma and lack of resources are keeping many from getting treatment and how our community is impacted by that.  


She explains below.


1) Why is mental health an important topic to discuss these days?


Marsha Martino: As we learn more about brain illnesses, there is a growing awareness that mental health is intrinsically connected to many aspects of our lives --- physical health, family, work, relationships, our general well-being.


To isolate it as a topic or to ignore it as an integral component of each of our daily lives is to deny this very essential part of our existence.  In our lifetime, there is a 1 in 4 chance that each of us will, as some point, meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness.  It is time to bring the topic out into the open and integrate it into relevant discussions.  Unless mental health is made part of comprehensive community discussions, we will be ignoring essential aspects of complex social, medical, and economic issues facing our society.   


2) What are specific mental health issues facing Palm Beach County and our nation?


Marsha Martino: Lack of adequate mental health care is both a national and a local issue.  This issue has at least two components.  One, because of the stigma associated with mental illness, individuals who could benefit from treatment often do not seek help.  Some spend a lifetime suffering from symptoms that could easily be treated.  The resulting personal, social, and economic impact of lack of mental health care is often devastating for the individual as well as their family. 


Additionally, for those seeking services in Palm Beach County, access is often lacking in availability and necessary frequency.  In Palm Beach County, it is not unusual for an individual seeking an initial psychiatric appointment to wait six weeks for their first visit.  Immediate crisis services are available, but once the individual is "stabilized" they are typically discharged to a community that offers them an unsupportive environment and fragmented services.  Under these circumstances, maintaining stability is often impossible.  Pockets of treatment and programs exist, but there is no coordinated infrastructure for individuals with serious mental illness.  Homelessness, incarceration, and frequent crisis hospitalizations become the norm for a population that could be stable if provided adequate community supports.


3) What can LPBC alumni do to address mental health in our community?


Marsha Martino: Mental health is not someone else's issue.  If one in four individuals has a mental illness in their lifetime, then it stands to reason that most of us have a family member, co-worker, or a friend with a mental illness. Or perhaps we ourselves have had a mental illness.  Until we recognize that these individuals can be loving friends and family members, excellent employees, and contributing community members, mental illness will continue to be viewed with emotions such as shame, disgust, and fear. 


Education about mental illness is essential.  Stigma is based on misperceptions. Mental illness is a brain disorder. We should not blame someone for having a mental illness any more than we would blame someone for having diabetes. With adequate treatment, stability and sometimes recovery from mental illness is possible. 


We need to demand adequate availability and access to mental health services for all members of our community. For those who are concerned about the cost, know that the cost of providing adequate treatment that will stabilize an individual is less than that of repeated hospitalizations and incarcerations.   


Register for the March 29 Lunch and Learn here.


Marsha Martino is the Executive Director of NAMI of Palm Beach County (NAMI/PBC), a grassroots organization that provides evidence-based, best practice educational courses, support groups and information and referral services for persons with mental illness and their family members. Prior to her employment at NAMI, Marsha developed and directed programs for individuals with disabilities and disadvantages including adults with developmental disabilities, acquired brain injuries, individuals returning to the community from incarceration, and at-risk youth.  Her passion is developing resources for individuals who have multiple diagnoses and complex needs.  Marsha and her husband are the parents of a son who has a serious mental illness.