Fighting an unseen illness

Asking for help can be especially difficult when addressing mental health concerns. Statistics state that anywhere from 30-80% of mental health concerns go unseen. 

This is the final article in a series on mental health

Asking for help is difficult. Asking for help with an unseen illness is oftentimes more difficult, a struggle that leads many to suffer in silence. 

Angie Mickelson met her husband Mike in 2000. At the age of 33, he hadn’t been diagnosed with any mental illness, but it wasn’t a secret that there was a strong family history that extended into grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as his immediate family. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) led to hoarding and it was a topic openly discussed within the family. Mike’s mother struggled with obvious mood swings, but she refused to seek treatment. “I knew at the beginning that there was a long family history for mental illness but you can’t really pick who you love and Mike was so funny and so kind and we just fit together so well that I looked past those fears and we made a life together,” explained Angie. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that anywhere from 30-80% of people who suffer from mental health concerns do not seek treatment. Brandon Saxton, clinic manager for Solutional Behavioral Health Professionals, explained that “mental health issues are important to address because, like other health issues, they can snowball into bigger difficulties if left undiagnosed and untreated.” 

Intelligent and talented, Mike could complete math equations in his head faster than one could type them into a calculator. He had an extensive vocabulary and often had to explain the definition of a word to his family. He was a talented performer and contained vast amounts of useless knowledge. His laugh was larger than life; but he also had a dark side. Within a year of meeting Angie, Mike began having seizures that weren’t able to be controlled by medication. Angie noticed that his seizures occurred when he was in a stressful situation, but after years of working with professionals, Mike began treatment for paralyzing anxiety and his seizures subsided, he also suffered from chronic depression, being hospitalized for being suicidal on four occasions, once for 18 days. He was unable to meet deadlines or hold jobs as his mental health consistently interfered with his ability to adequately function on a day-to-day basis. He was compliant with medication regimens and therapy suggestions, utilizing dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills to help manage his symptoms. While these methods were helpful, they did not quell his demons entirely. 

In 2014, World Psychology magazine shared that some evidence suggests that the combination of medication and psychotherapy have proven beneficial for individuals with mental health diagnoses. It is common for mental health and physical health issues to co-occur.

During his 18-day inpatient stay, Mike added electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to his medication and therapy regimens. 

“(ECT) turned out to be a miracle.  It really was the only treatment that ever stopped the demons in his head that told him he was no good. The ones that said ‘Hey Mike, the world would be better off without you in it.’ ECT stopped those voices.  Not forever, but for long enough for him to remember his DBT techniques and get strong again.  So we started doing ECT treatments every week for a while, then every two weeks and eventually every 5-6 weeks for the next six years,” his wife explained. 

In the summer of 2020, Mike’s family contracted COVID-19, which resulted in him developing pneumonia and delaying his ECT treatments. Due to concerns with memory loss, Mike opted to discontinue the treatments altogether, promising Angie that he was feeling fine and that he would let her know if he began feeling depressed again.    

The National Center for Biotechnology Information shared that 1 in 5 adults discontinue treatment for their mental health prematurely. Premature discontinuance of necessary mental health treatment can result in a crisis situation. The Fergus Falls community has strong crisis support in place, with services available through the Bridgeway Behavioral Health at Lake Region Healthcare (LRH), Lakeland Mental Health Center (LMHC), and the crisis stabilization unit (CSU) through Productive Alternatives. 

When Mike would present for ECT treatments, they always asked him the same question, “Mike, do you have any thoughts of killing yourself?” 

His answer was always the same. 

“Everyday. I think about it every day.” When followed up with whether or not he had a plan, his response was also the same “Nope, not today.” 

That changed on Dec.15, 2020. Mike hadn’t been receiving treatments for a number of months. He was living with chronic pain and a degenerative spine and had suffered through multiple surgeries. Dec. 15 marked the seventh anniversary of his mother’s death, a date that had triggered Mike ever since. That morning he awoke from a nightmare and received bad news about potentially needing another surgery. That day ended with Mike’s suicide, which was drawn out in the hospital for a number of weeks. 

“He had a really bad day, but I think if he’d had continued his ECT treatments he would have been more prepared to deal with it,” Angie said. “Maybe because it was winter and dark, or because of the holidays, I guess we’ll never really know.  Hug the ones you love!”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) states that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Middle-aged white men are most likely to commit suicide, with men commiting suicide at a rate 3.63 times higher than women. In 2019, an average of 130 suicides occurred each day with 1.38 million suicide attempts made — 90% of suicides were made by people who had underlying, potentially treatable, mental health concerns. 

“Suicide is related to brain functions that affect decision-making and behavioral control, making it difficult for people to find positive solutions,” AFSP shared. “Specific treatments used by mental health professionals have been proven to help people manage their suicidal ideation and behavior.”

Addressing mental health concerns of all levels and severities can be done by making an appointment with a mental health professional or calling a crisis support line. Some local resources are as follows:

• Lakeland Mental Health Center — lmhc.org/fergus-falls/: “We are proud of the full range of confidential services we have available for families and individuals of all ages, including: individual, group and family therapy; psychiatry services; chemical health services; psychological evaluations; case management services; community support services; rehabilitative mental health services; and therapeutic services and supports. LMHC, in collaboration with a number of other agencies, offers 24-hour crisis services to adults, children and families in Clay, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties. You can reach these services by calling the center’s toll free number at 800-223-4512. The Mobile Mental Health Crisis Response Team is available to respond to your needs at any time of the day, any day of the week,” Judy Dinsmore said.

• Solutional Behavioral Health Professionals — solutionsinpractice.org/fergus-falls-mn: Outpatient therapy services, psychological testing and assessment, services under the Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS) program, Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services, targeted mental health case management, and services through the Early Intensive Developmental and Behavioral Intervention (EIDBI) program.

• Productive Alternatives Crisis Support Program — productivemn.org/crisis-stabilization-unit/

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