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Again this year, Congress has designated Oct. 4-10 as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This week is designed to help stem the stigma and increase awareness of the facts about mental illness.

During any six-month period, 39 million Americans, including 12 million children, suffer from a diagnosable emotional disorder. Utah has almost 200,000 adults and 150,000 children with these problems. Over 30,000 Utah children have very serious emotional illnesses.One in three of us will experience a mental illness at some point in our lives. Yet only one in five affected by these problems seeks appropriate help - many times because of self-imposed silence based on shame and stigma.

This year, these illnesses will cost America almost $275 billion and tens of thousands of lives, largely from lack of appropriate treatment.

Fear, misunderstanding and ignorance keep these illnesses more hidden than heart disease and more insidious than cancer. While shame leads to silence, the real shame is in not seeking help, which is almost always effective.

Unfortunately, those whose health insurance provides good benefits for physical problems often have only mediocre to poor coverage for emotional problems. This usually comes as a distressing surprise to the many who find they need help for themselves or a family member. It's advisable to check your health insurance policy to make sure these illnesses are adequately covered.

Paul L. Whitehead, M.D.

Public affairs representative

Utah Psychiatric Association