Michelle Kastriba, 32, of Carlisle, wakes up every morning with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
“The last time I was hospitalized, my depression and anxiety was so severe that I wasn’t able to function…,” she said. “I couldn’t shower or eat. I couldn’t be awake for 10 minutes without crying. I’ve actually tried to kill myself. I’ve gone manic. I’ve had panic attacks.”
But Kastriba’s family — including four children ages 13, 11, 6 and 3 – and her full-time course load at Harrisburg Area Community College wouldn’t wait for her symptoms to subside.
“I definitely had to learn that I’m responsible for the choices that I make,” she said. “If you’re sick, stop making excuses, stop blaming all of this on everything else.”
Kastriba says those with mental illness need to take control of their lives by overcoming “the stigma of the label” and getting help.
“Mental illness goes across the board,” said Carlisle resident Deb Thayer, who has been hospitalized nine times for bipolar disorder over the last 15 years. “You can be white, rich, homeless, female, a male, a Democrat, a conservative — mental illness happens to every kind of person.”
Thayer says that for the first 40 years of her life, she bounced from job to job as a registered nurse working on the West Coast and self-medicated her symptoms with drugs and alcohol.
“I came from a really dysfunctional family,” she said. “I loved my job and I was very good at it, but I was a crazy person. I was crazy, but it was part of my personality, it’s who I was.”
Kastriba and Thayer represent just two of the 61.5 million Americans who experience mental illness every year. However, the National Alliance on Mental Health says 60 percent of them don’t seek treatment. Some of this, county officials say, is due to the stigma associated with labeling a person with mental illness.
Cumberland County Commissioner Gary Eichelberger says the county’s Mental Health/Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities department works toward diminishing the effect of that stigma every day.
“Increasing understanding and awareness are key elements of solving our challenges in this arena …,” he said. “Every family is touched in some relatively direct manner by these issues, but the stigma concerns still compel many to shy away from open acknowledgement and action that benefits both the families and the communities. These are often such unnatural and unnecessary barriers to recovery and improvement.”
Cumberland County offers case management services, partial hospitalization, psychiatric inpatient services, psychiatric rehab programs, family-based services, social and vocational rehabilitation, residential services and a number of adolescent programs as well.
However, the waiting list for these services, is backed up six to eight weeks, or more, says Cumberland County Mental Health Administrator Silvia Herman.
She said the county still encourages callers to place their names on waiting lists, but says people often hang up without doing so.
“I was a pharmacy tech by trade,” Kastriba said. “If you have a mental illness, you are blessed to live in Cumberland County. Granted it takes a while to get into the system, but once you’re there, you’re taken care of.”