By Dylan Deprey
After twenty years of working construction as a carpenter, Jeff Munz needed a change, a new beginning and a career that would allow him to help others.
Though the switch to the healthcare field may seem like a stretch from his woodworking roots, Munz is now rebuilding lives as a Nurse Manager in Child and Adolescent unit for the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.
Munz works at the impatient unit with children up to the age of 18-years-old. He said patients range from all ages, diagnoses and environmental situations at school and home.
While working in the field he noticed the stigma surrounding mental health involved both the person in need of treatment for mental health illness as well as society’s view on mental health.
He added that those going through a mental health illness are worried about how everyone will view them after diagnoses. Society, on the other hand, will look down a laundry list of negatives when they hear find out about someone with mental illness.
“The majority of people that think of mental health have a real negative outlook on what it is and how it affects people, and also enhances the stigma,” Munz said.
African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, according to the Health and Human services office of Minority Health.
Common mental health disorders among African Americans include: Major depression, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suicide among young men and Post-traumatic stress disorder. Homelessness and increased exposure to violence are two major factors that increase the risk of developing a mental health condition.
Just as homelessness can cause mental health, Munz said that breaking stigma can be extremely hard when living through rough conditions.
“We’re looking at a lot of families that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or where their living or if there’s going to be heat in the house,” Munz said. “There are all sorts of issues associated with just their day-to-day life, and that creates its own situation, or stigma. So, when you add a mental health diagnoses or a health problem associated with that, it complicates it.”
Munz said the first step in breaking mental health stigma is by educating the patient first on what the diagnoses is and how they can work through it because a lot of them can be worked through.
“As a manager of a unit where we care for patients, we really try to break all those barriers down,” Munz said. “We don’t look at it as an age, ethnic, part in society, or religious. We focus on everything we can for that person.”
He added that support groups for people living with mental health illness are just as helpful as support groups for any other physical illnesses because it gives an opportunity to talk to others experiencing the same issues.
Munz said the Milwaukee Behavioral Health Division educates newly diagnosed and admitted patients about community services.
“We don’t want to keep a person here for a set amount of days, and then release them back to the community and not get them ongoing care,” Munz said.
The Milwaukee County BHD has several programs including Wraparound Milwaukee, a comprehensive, individualized and cost effective care to children with complex mental health and emotional needs.
Munz said WrapAround worked with families to connect them with community resources making sure mental health patients are not readmitted at the first sign of trouble.
“Let’s see what we can do in the community first and take care of all the things they can to limit their hospitalization,” Munz said.
Though Mental Health Awareness month may be coming to a close, educating the community is key to breaking the stigma.
For more information visit http://county.milwaukee.gov/BehavioralHealthDivi7762.htm