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Telehealth improves access to metal health care

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151020Bipolar-300During my life, I've watched loved ones struggle with various mental health issues. As a nurse working with patients from all walks of life, my eyes have been opened to the reality that many seemingly "normal" - however you describe "normal" - people cope with mental illness on a daily basis and still maintain a job, family, and/or school.

Mental health is a topic many people avoid, even though we all know people who've dealt with mental health challenges or instabilities. We are used to hearing the word "depression," but there are other common mental health conditions that people cope with every day, such as bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression.

Musicians, actors and writers - those who constantly have the spotlight on them - sometimes express their struggles through their art.

"Manic depression is touching my soul. I know what I want but I just don't know... Manic depression is a frustrating mess." - Jimi Hendrix

Many famous people throughout history have struggled with bipolar disorder, as this disease commonly affects those who are creative: actors, painters, singers, writers and sculptors, in addition to people you see every day.  

"Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes, am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah." - Robin Williams

It's unfortunate and misguided to believe that people with bipolar disorder or depression can just will themselves to think positive or "snap out of it" - those are myths. Compare it to expecting someone with diabetes to change their blood sugar levels just by thinking about it.  

Bipolar disorder is common and can become disabling, but it can improve with treatment. It is characterized by mood elevation and major depression due to changes in the brain. It is an inherited condition, not linked to any specific gene, and is influenced by environmental and social factors.
 
"One day I feel I'm on top of the world. And the next it's falling in on me." - Rush

It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative - whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it." - Sylvia Plath

One of the greatest difficulties is getting help. In our area, there are very few mental health providers taking new patients, which is why primary care providers are sometimes "first on the scene."

Hospitalization is a short-term option, but could put them in jeopardy of losing their job, their partner, or their family.  Therefore, primary care providers do their best to initiate care, stabilize the person, and get them in touch with a psychiatrist and counselor.  
 
At Oak Street Medical, we have partnered with a service that can provide immediate mental health care online. In a private room, counseling with a licensed mental health care provider can take place via the Internet. This form of Telehealth is one of the newest types of healthcare; it allows for care to take place wherever the patient is located. It improves access to care and allows us to reach outside our limited mental health resources in our community to get more immediate help for patients.
 
If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently, and there is no shame in seeking help." - Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Melanie Chala Wayne, MSN, FNP-BC is a nurse practitioner for Oak Street Medical and Oregon Allergy Associates.