Onslow County struggles with long-term treatment options

Anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and oppositional defiant disorder.

Those are the four mental illnesses most often diagnosed at RHA Health Services in Jacksonville — anxiety with underlying depression was the first RHA Regional Director Molly Daughtry mentioned when asked.

Those who have it experience excessive worrying and are unable to shut it off, she said. Sometimes, the anxiety can become a physical problem manifesting in panic attacks, increased heart rate and shortness of breath.

Bipolar disorder involves significant changes in moods with intense emotions, Daughtry said. If someone who’s been diagnosed feels depressed, it’s an extreme depression and they’re often unable to make informed decisions.

That leads to many risky behaviors, RHA Program Manager Tee West added, citing potential drug use, spending a lot of money, not coming home for days and going home with strangers.

Perception is off for those with bipolar disorder, West said, explaining that when someone who isn’t diagnosed with bipolar is angry it’s a feeling, but someone who is bipolar feels like the anger is something that’s being done to them.

Schizophrenia involves hallucinations, and when it goes untreated it interferes with everything, West said. Some people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia need a high level of care, she continued. While the hallucinations can seem dangerous to those unfamiliar with them, Daughtry said someone with schizophrenia is no more dangerous than the next person — however, they may feel like they are in danger, especially if imagined voices are speaking to them, West added.

Operational defiant disorder is the No. 1 mental illness found in Onslow County children and often is the result of a trauma, Daughtry said. The trauma can include the loss of a parent, neglect or abuse, and bullying.

It’s common in this area for children of Marines who move around a lot as well, West added.
Operational defiant disorder in children often stems from violence.

“We see a lot of domestic abuse,” Daughtry said.

Mental illness, drugs, and alcohol

Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand, according to Clinical Neuropsychologist Tobi Gilbert, the behavioral health consultant for Onslow Memorial Hospital.
She sees it a lot in patients locally.

“I think it’s getting worse,” Gilbert said.

After struggling with their diagnosis, Gilbert said they can burn out their support system. Their families are unsure of how else they can help them.

“They end up getting involved with either drugs or alcohol to help them numb whatever emotional pain they’re experiencing,” Gilbert said. “Depending on the type of diagnosis they have ... they don’t know what else to do.”

When they use, Gilbert said the substances can make them more social, which helps them cultivate friendships. They enjoy the benefits they found with drugs or alcohol.

“Then it becomes very challenging for them to stop using.”

The opposite can also be found.

There are times that substance abuse leads to mental health issues, Gilbert said. Someone predisposed to a drug or alcohol dependence, whether from genetics or early experimentation, gets hooked and develops a substance-induced mood disorder.

Alcohol, for example, is a depressant, she said. It can lead to depression and anxiety in the user; and even if the substance abuse stops, the depression and anxiety don’t.

“It causes some brain damage on a small, sometimes larger, level,” Gilbert said of substance abuse.
To get help, a person can’t just give up vodka or heroin — Gilbert said they have to change the way they think.

“That’s hard, it’s the hardest thing any of us do,” she said. “To start that process, it’s a matter of choice.”

Help is available

For assistance with mental health or substance abuse problems, contact one of the following agencies: 

• RHA Health Services, located at 215 Memorial Drive in Jacksonville, can be reached at 910-353-5118. Their mobile crisis unit is available 24/7 for emergencies and can be reached by calling 1-844-709-4097

• The Emergency Room at Onslow Memorial Hospital, located at 317 Western Blvd. in Jacksonville, can be reached at 910-577-2240 and is open 24/7

• Brynn Marr Hospital, located at 192 Village Drive in Jacksonville, can be reached at 910-577-1900. Their admissions staff is available at this number 24/7

• Le’Chris Counseling Services, located at 2444 Commerce Road in Jacksonville, can be reached at 910-577-8200, or at their after-hours crisis line, 1-866-321-8452

• Integrated Family Services offers a mobile crisis unit 24/7 that can be reached by calling 1-866-437-1821.