The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

October 8, 2013

Seeing past mental illness

OTTUMWA — It’s not laziness, weakness of character or loose morals that drives the actions of those battling mental illness, say local mental health professionals and their patients.

Social worker Angie Fiscella said she’s still surprised at the way, even in the 21st century, the public acts toward those with mental illness. They may not understand that it’s just what it says: An illness, usually involving brain function. And yes, she said, that can affect how a patient speaks, acts and thinks.

“People see someone in a wheelchair, and don’t expect them to get up and do stuff,” she said Tuesday. “But there’s not that level of understanding with mental health.”

Fiscella was helping at the Promise Center in downtown Ottumwa, a type of clubhouse where those with mental health issues can be in a safe place with others who won’t be judgmental. The voluntary “drop in” center is funded by Southern Iowa Mental Health. There are games, videos and snacks, but the most common activity is visiting; sitting on one of the many couches or chairs and chatting.

Just like other disorders, mental illness can be mild, moderate or severe, Fiscella said. And depending on medication adjustments, that level can change. Which means that someone you might never think of as having any health issues whatsoever could become agitated one day as their body adjusts to the change. That, and normal changes in brain chemistry can cause good or bad days.

“You may ask yourself, ‘Oh no. What have I done?’” said Fiscella about seeing a co-worker or friend get upset.

A simple comment may trigger rage, with foul language or slamming of doors from someone who never acts that way.

“Don’t take it personally,” she said, explaining that at that moment, it’s a matter of control, or lack of control.

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