DU symposium examines mental illness

Photo by Taylor Miles | The Duquesne Duke. People gather Friday in the Union Ballroom for the fifth annual Rita M. McGinley Symposium. The event was titled The Face of the Person with Mental Illness.

Photo by Taylor Miles | The Duquesne Duke. People gather Friday in the Union Ballroom for the fifth annual Rita M. McGinley Symposium. The event was titled The Face of the Person with Mental Illness.

By Brandon Addeo | The Duquesne Duke

Medical professionals, college professors and counselors from across the country examined social justice for the mentally ill at a symposium in the Union Ballroom last week.

The Face of the Person with Mental Illness featured more than 20 participants discussing society’s perceptions and treatment of mental illnesses.

Carol Easley Allen, co-owner of the Huntsville, Alabama, healthcare education firm Twin Solutions LLC, said healthcare providers of all disciplines must discuss this issue together to find ways they can make a difference in the community.

Allen said health care professionals need to have a self-sacrificing love and approach toward mental illness patients.

“It’s a love that can be tough; it’s a love that can be critical,” Allen said. “But, it’s a love that self-sacrificially offers oneself to the patient in a way that you can see growth [and] help.”

Dorcas McLaughlin, a psychotherapist and associate professor of nursing at Saint Louis University, said deep conversations, human interactions and relationships make the best forms of treatment for mental illness patients.

“It’s not only neurotransmitters that we think of with drugs,” McLaughlin said. “Actually, it’s the neurotransmitters between brains. If you look at some of the healing that occurs, most people will say that it was the relationship that made the healing occur.”

In addition to human interactions, a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that animal interactions with mental illness patients had a positive effect. The study showed that patients with schizophrenia had a much higher rate of social and verbal interaction when there was a therapy dog present.

Matthew Walsh, a psychotherapist at Duquesne’s Counseling and Well-Being Center, said homelessness can cause the development of mental illness. He spoke about society’s tendency to alienate homeless individuals and the impact that it has on the homeless.

“We’ve all done it, we’ve all walked down the street and we’ve seen that person,” Walsh said. “We avert our eyes with that idea of, ‘If we don’t make eye contact, maybe they don’t exist.’”

Statistics published by the American Psychological Association said the rate of mental illness among the homeless is twice the rate of the general population.

Alison Colbert, associate dean for academic affairs in Duquesne’s School of Nursing, said society has created barriers of inequality and discrimination between them and those with mental illnesses.

“We have a responsibility to dismantle those barriers, not just to identify them but to take them apart,” Colbert said. “We need to look at how our structures are creating disability for people who are dealing with mental illness and commit to making fundamental change.”

The mental illness discussion was the fifth annual installment of the Rita M. McGinley Symposium, named after the educator and philanthropist from Braddock, Pennsylvania. The symposium is a result of an endowment from the Rita M. McGinley Foundation, according to Duquesne’s nursing school.

The McGinley Symposium was first held at Duquesne in 2010 with the topic The Face of the Elderly. Duquesne has held the symposium each year since, with The Face of the Immigrant, The Face of the Child and The Face of the Veteran.

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