STATISTICS IN the latest Ohio Valley Medical Center "Deliverable Community Health Needs Assessment" note that both Ohio and West Virginia are rated in the top five highest states for mental illness for populations 18 years and older, higher than the national averages in both "any mental illness" and "serious mental illness." At OVMC in 2010, more than 25 percent of the inpatient discharges were psychiatric patients.
More grim statistics from the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation state that the number of Ohio suicides doubled the number of homicides in 2010 and even surpassed the number of automobile accident deaths. Suicide is the leading cause of death in the 10 to 64 age bracket and the second highest cause of death for Ohioans ages 15 to 34.
Six Ohio counties in this region have the highest reported rates of suicide in the state-Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe, Guernsey and Muskingum-according to a report from the OSPF. The agencies have identified several factors contributing to these high rates of mental illness and suicide.
Over the last decade, there has been an increase in unemployment and, subsequently, in residents living at or below poverty levels. During this period, suicide rates increased 27 percent.
While the OVMC assessment points out the influx of gas and oil industry jobs, it adds that most of the higher paying jobs are held by out of state workers. Local job increases have been mainly in lower paying retail and service venues. This, they say, contributes to the uninsured and under-insured populations that have not been able to afford health care and insurance.
OVMC even noted that exercise venues like trails, parks and community centers are lacking. Exercise has been proven to relieve stress and release endorphins ("feel good" substances in the brain.) They have also identified this region as having a shortage in psychiatric care providers to service the growing needs.
What else keeps people from seeking help with issues like anxiety and depression? Linda Pickenpaugh, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board, believes people who need services are still fighting the stigma and perceptions that society has put on these treatable illnesses.
She says that the demand for help is increasing even as agencies like the MHRB face funding cuts. The MHRB distributes federal, state and local funds to service providers in Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties. In Fiscal Year 2012, 84 percent of MHRB's $8.5 million in revenue was allocated to mental health services.
In addition, Pickenpaugh notes that serious mental health issues are beginning to manifest at younger ages, now in grade schools. Conduct disorders such as bullying, ADHD, fighting, stealing and defiant behavior are on the increase. On the other side of these disorders lie the victims who may in turn develop depression and anxiety disorders, or even commit suicide.
While hospitals and agencies can identify problems and possible causes, the public's recognizing and accepting that many common mental illnesses are treatable-like treating high blood pressure or diabetes-could benefit the region's overall health.
Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline .com.