Those living with mental disorders often find catharsis in substance abuse – Las Vegas Review

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 25 percent of U.S. adults have a mental illness and 54 million experience some form of a mental disorder in a given year.

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Common disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety .

“The spectrum of mental health really affects a wide swath of the population … and can be quite debilitating,” said Dr. Jeffery Talbot, director of the Research Center on Substance Abuse and Depression at the Roseman University of Health Sciences. “Over the last 30 years, there’s been an increase in the types of mental health illness that we now consider the norm. If you take depression, the National (Institutes) of Health estimates that one in five or one in six Americans will experience a clinically significant depressive illness at some point in their lifetime. That’s a big number, and that’s just one (illness). When you roll in anxiety and other disorders like ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), many of them are comorbid (presenting simultaneously), so you’re approaching a significant number of individuals.”

Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, specific numbers are not available, but according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the 2011-12 studies by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, serious mental illness in the past year among people 18 or older affected 3.95 percent of Nevada’s population. Nationally, the rate was 4.0 percent, or 9.3 million people.

When it comes to a mental illness of any kind, the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality and the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show 16.05 percent of Nevada’s population is affected.

Those with mental health issues often find temporary relief in drug use, so treatment centers see many people affected by both. A case in point is Katie, 24, who did not want to use her last name. Katie’s life started out with traumatic events. As a toddler, her meth-addicted parents left her clinging to an inadequate floatie on the waves of a Hawaiian beach while they were preoccupied.

“My brother — he’s eight years older than me — said that was the day he learned to swim, trying to keep me afloat,” she said.

A couple of years later, her father threatened suicide and dangled her off a high bridge, saying he’d take her with him. Her mother and the police talked him out of it, but the damage to Katie was done. She has a recurring dream of falling from a great height.

After her mother divorced and brought her to Las Vegas, Katie was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall. She later graduated to downers — Percocet and Lortab.

Katie idolized her father’s lifestyle from afar, wanting to join his gang and seeing herself as a glamorous character in the movie “Casino.” She said she smoked pot and drank to feel cool. By 17, she tried meth. By 18, she was hooked on heroin.

“It boosted my ego; I rocked it,” she said. “I felt like, ‘No one can keep up with me. God couldn’t keep up with me.’ ”

Panhandling at gas stations paid for her habit. She said she made as much as $120 a day.

Then one day, one of her friends died from heroin. Depression set in. The law caught up with her, and Katie went into a drug program through Youth Offender Court for those 18 to 26, run by Judge Cedric Kerns. Even then, she’d sabotage herself, she said, doing drugs but drying out a couple of days before the weekly mandatory drug test.

Katie is now getting counseling for her mental health issues and her drug addiction. She said she wants a normal life and hopes a “higher power will get me there.”

There are many Katies out there. How does the party-town atmosphere of Las Vegas figure into the equation?

“That plays a huge role,” said Patrick Bozarth, ‎executive director of the ‎Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, 714 E. Sahara Ave. “I think with Las Vegas, in particular — because of the draw of Las Vegas, the nightlife, the ‘party hardy’ lifestyle — we have a big problem with substance abuse here. The majority of clients that we serve here at the Community Counseling Center, more than three-quarters of them have a substance abuse diagnosis.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental disorder and is in crisis now, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

For more information on the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, call 702-369-8700 or visit

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email or call 702-387-2949.