NAMI Clermont County News

Stigma Buster

Andy McGinn, Journalist
It is said that laughter is the best medicine. Andy McGinn would modify that by saying, "Laughter, for me, is essential, but it doesn't balance out the serotonin in my brain. For that, I take a pill every night with dinner." Andy has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition that results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Andy is a journalist covering the entertainment beat for the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun. He interviews many people, some well-known. "A few years ago, I interviewed Howie Mandel. Howie is the poster child for OCD. He shared with me that one time a woman came up to him and said she could relate to him because she had 'a touch of OCD, too.' He looked at her and said, 'I hope not. I wouldn't wish this illness on anyone.' Yes, it is real. Yes, it is serious. No, you can't be a 'little OCD' any more than you can be a 'little bipolar' or a 'little schizophrenic.' "

Many of us have questioned whether we locked the door, turned off the iron, or unplugged the coffee pot. But the vast majority of us don't spend hours researching a rare disease, sure that the red bump on our ankle is the first sign of a rare tropical disease, like Andy does. Nor do we count the prongs on an electrical cord ten times after we pull it out of the wall to be sure that they are both there, and one didn't get stuck in the socket. People like Andy, with OCD are trapped in a world where obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become so excessive that they interfere with daily life.

For Andy, humor has been the ticket to coping with the world around him. For many years, the stigma of taking medication for his illness was enough to keep him from enjoying life. "I believed that I could overcome my issues by sheer willpower. To me, taking medication seemed like it was the easy way out, a crutch, a sign of weakness. Two years ago, I came home to find my wife of ten years with her bags packed. She couldn't live with my behaviors any longer. That woke me up. That's when I got serious. That's when I learned that medicine, coupled with humor, makes my life livable for me—and my family."

"My fellow journalists have always had a running joke about my need to read everything I write out loud over and over again. A newsroom can get pretty noisy, but that doesn't stop me. I just read louder and as many times as I need until I am sure the article sounds perfect. When you are caught in the trap of OCD thoughts, you may know that you aren't rational, but that doesn't matter. You are controlled by the illness, and it takes over your life.

"Once I started medication, I couldn't believe the difference. Letting go of the elusive pursuit of perfection and the constant worry about imagined horrors has given me my life back. I couldn't believe that I could get everything done in so much less time. At night, I can relax and enjoy my family. I don't stay up all night reading up on Lyme disease."

In a recent article, Andy declared to the world (or at least to his readers in Springfield) that it was no joke, he really does have OCD. "My OCD has been a rich source of material, but it really is not a laughing matter. I felt it was time for people to understand that the joking and humor are a part of me, but that they are also coping mechanisms that allow me to survive. Humor is what separates me from Howard Hughes. If I wasn't able to laugh at myself, I would be an eccentric hermit."

To Andy, OCD does not seem to carry the same stigma as other mental illnesses. "The public downplays this condition because so many people think they 'have a touch of OCD.' I think it is the medication that carries the stigma. It is a sad day when it is more socially acceptable to talk about medication for erectile dysfunction than it is for a brain disorder."

As to the response to his recent article, Andy said, "Several readers contacted me to thank me for writing about my illness. One woman shared with me that she has been taking medication for OCD for years and has never told her teenage sons about her illness. I couldn't help wondering if she would feel the same way about telling them that she is on medication for high cholesterol. If being open about my illness and my medication releases one person from the shame they feel, I am more than happy to do that."

Andy McGinn is funny. Andy McGinn is happy. Andy McGinn is liberated. Last year, he was honored by the Associated Press as the Best Columnist for his market size. Andy is proud of his accomplishment. "It is nice having my perfection recognized. It is nice to know that I didn't read that story out loud sixteen times for nothing!"

Andy McGinn is a regular columnist for the Springfield News-Sun. To read the article in which he shares he has OCD, go to:

Staggering Statistics on Cost of Health Care for Individuals are Unveiled

In a meeting in Columbus last week, representatives from the Best Practices in Schizophrenia Treatment (BeST) Center at the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy and Health Management Associates unveiled the preliminary results of a report on the cost of treating individuals with severe mental illness in Ohio's Medicaid program. The title of the presentation was, "The Business Case for Integrated Physical and Behavioral Health Care: A Discussion of Research Findings." To consumers and family members, the findings will likely not come as any surprise, but to others, they may appear staggering. Here are just a few examples:

* Individuals with schizophrenia and psychosis account for almost a third of the state's annual Medicaid spending for mental illnesses despite making up only 19% of patients;

* The average annual Medicaid expenditure per person without a mental illness is $8,151. For schizophrenia that number increases to $20,116, and to $28,260 for psychosis;

* Generally, 22% to 46% individuals with severe mental illnesses also have a substance abuse problem (officials said those numbers are likely under reported);

* Individuals with severe mental illnesses have about twice the rate of hospitalization and emergency department visits for conditions such as diabetes, COPD, pneumonia and asthma compared to Medicaid patients without a mental illness.

According to Lon Herman, Director of the BeST Center, "Many of these hospitalizations and emergency room visits are for things that are treatable, that are preventable; good care and good care coordination will result in people recovering much better in their lives as well as saving the state money."

Perhaps the most staggering statistic, and one that has been around for some time, is that individuals with severe mental illnesses die 25 years earlier than their peers. However, tying this statistic to dollars and cents, as this report does, appears to be getting some traction. There were several key governmental officials and mental and health care professionals in attendance at the unveiling of these findings, many of whom seem intent on turning these statistics around. In light of Ohio's $8 billion deficit, to do otherwise would be foolhardy. It's just a shame that so many lives are being cut short while this gets figured out.

To view a copy of the presentation" go to: .

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