Parkites Connect to raise mental health awareness
Park City’s Ed and Lynne Rutan know the struggles of the mentally ill.
Their youngest son, after years of battling Schizoaffective Disorder, has his life back.
"We’re extremely lucky that his illness is under control and that he is doing extremely well," Lynne said during a Park Record interview with her husband.
However, the experiences with their son have spurred the Rutans to raise awareness about mental health.
So, they founded an organization called Connect back in September.
The group’s mission is to "destigmatize mental illness, to increase awareness of existing behavioral health services and to build public support for increased spending on behavioral health in Summit County."
Since May is Mental Health Month, the Rutans have scheduled an array of Connect events that are designed to raise awareness of mental health issues, but also to draw attention to the Summit County Community Mental Health Assessment, a needs survey regarding services available to families who have members suffering from mental illness.
"Connect is working with the health department to encourage people throughout the county to take the survey," Ed said. "It’s online and confidential."
The survey can be taken by visiting http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/summit-health.
In addition, Connect has scheduled events including the Brain Storm Film Festival (see story titled "Brain Storm Film Festival examines mental health issues") and presentations by professionals in the mental health community. (See story titled "Connect Mental Health Month schedule").
The kick-off events will be held on May 3 in the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium and will feature the University of Utah department of psychiatry, according to Anne Asman, the department’s director of development.
"The first part, which will start at 3:30 p.m., will be a one-and-a-half hour program by three clinicians who will give different presentations for other mental-health professionals — social workers, therapists, primary-care doctors and such," Asman explained. "[The U does] have a primary care clinic, the Redstone Clinic, in Park City, and one of the issues is the lack of mental-health resources. And while that isn’t a unique problem, it’s certainly an issue that needs to be addressed."
The presentations will be "Identification and Management of Cognitive Problems in Primary Care Settings" by Dr. Sara Weisenbach, assistant professor of adult psychiatry; "Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Park City" by Dr. Perry Rensha, professor of research psychiatry; and "Oxytocin and Social Behavior: A New Treatment Option for Substance Abuse Disorder" by Dr. Tiffany Love, assistant professor of adult psychiatry.
"While this event is designed for professionals, anyone who would like to attend are welcome," Asman said. "However, we do have limited space."
The big presentation that is open to the public will be given by Dr. Jon-Kar Zubieta, at 7 p.m. in the Jim Santy Auditorium.
Zubieta is the newly appointed William H. and Edna Stimson Presidential Endowed chairman, professor and chairman of the University of Utah’s department of psychiatry. He is also Psychiatrist-in-Chief at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute.
"Dr. Zubieta will present ‘Brain Science, Brain Health: Reframing Mental Illness,’" said Asman, who is also MS in gerontology.
"One of the biggest issues is that when most people hear the words mental health, they want to run away, but if someone says physical health, they’re perfectly fine with things," Asman said. "So, one of the things Dr. Zubieta will talk about is that mental health is just taking care of another organ in your body, the brain."
The presentation will try to destigmatize mental illness.
"The problem is that we talk about heart disease, kidney disease and lung disease, but we hardly talk about brain disease," Asman said. "Mental health relates to brain disease, brain disorders, brain dysfunction, just like what happens to any other part of the body. Unfortunately, it’s the one thing we understand the least because it’s the most complex."
The brain, like other organs, can be or become dysfunctional and it can be treated like those other ailments, according to Asman.
"The problem is that many people think that mental disorder is something that we can control on our own," she said. "Well, you know what? We can’t. It’s just the same as people who have arrhythmia can’t fix their hearts themselves. They need help."
Asman believes things could change if the medical profession as well as the public starts referring to mental health as "brain health."
"I think education is the best way to initiate change and the more we use those terms in educational and professional settings, will help," she said. "We need people who are being treated for brain illnesses to speak up like people who are being treated for asthma."
Approximately one in five individuals have some sort of brain malfunction, according to Asman.
"Utah pretty much mirrors those statistics," she said. "It’s so widespread that if you walk into a crowded room and ask if anyone has been affected by a brain disorder, every hand will go up, whether they are an older person who is battling dementia or a younger child who battles anxiety, or caretakers."
While its true that some people who suffer mental illness have been able to work around them, there are others who have more serious ailments and/or haven’t been diagnosed properly.
"The catch is many people don’t know they have a problem," Asman said. "They think they’re just sad and that they’ll get over it. But then four or five months will go by and they still feel depressed."
This is where the problems lie.
"Many times we don’t do anything about mental disorders until it becomes a crisis," Asman said. "We don’t talk about it until someone is shot or when there is a mass shooting."
While many people and psychologists will say that there are probably biological bases for these particular actions, the issue may be bigger, Asman said.
"Yes, people say it is a choice, but if your brain isn’t functioning to give you the capacity to let you know this isn’t a way to solve a problem, we have to look further into the behavior."
For more information about Connect, visit facebook.com/ConnectSummitCounty.
Note on the following video: Dr. Zubieta is now with the University of Utah.
The Park City Wine Club is busy preparing its Pink Party in the Park that will kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month at 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 2.
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