Dr. Catherine Harrison-Restelli never forgets the young woman who would routinely visit the labor and delivery triage unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in East Baltimore.
At the time, Harrison-Restelli was working in Johns Hopkins’ gynecology and obstetrics residency program. Nurses said the woman, who was pregnant, would visit once a week. They would implore Harrison-Restelli “not to give her an ultrasound because she just wants more pictures of the baby.”
But it turned out that the woman, who was in automobile accident around the age of 19, was seeking opiates to help deal with her physical and mental pain. Harrison-Restelli said the woman, whose identity she did not disclose, had “been doctor shopping to get more pills,” which made her less anxious in social settings.
“That’s where I really became interested in individuals’ stories. I wanted to have more time to explore that — which was, in part, why I switched to psychiatry,” said Harrison-Restelli, who now specializes in psychiatry at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and for the Sheppard Pratt Health System.
Harrison-Restelli, 47, of Baltimore, made the switch more than 13 years ago, and the woman she first treated is not alone.
Although men and women are affected equally by mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobias, women are twice as likely as men to have depression or generalized anxiety, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In the last year alone, 29 million women in the U.S., or about 23 percent of the female population, had experienced a diagnosable mental health-related disorder.
Experts say they believe that millions of other cases — male and female — may go unreported and, thus, untreated.
Zachary Snitzer, 37, of Owings Mills, is the director of business development at the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in Towson, a program he helped co-found nearly four years ago. He said in his experience, women are more open than men to discussing the impact that anxiety- and stress-related issues have had on them.
“To be honest, I think a lot of the stigma surrounds male mental health issues,” Snitzer said. “Men are supposed to be the providers, so I think a lot of them feel that they should just be able to deal with these things regularly.”
Snitzer, who grew up in a Jewish family, said he started using drugs himself at the age of 12. He turned to cocaine and heroin, among other substances, but got sober 15 years later and remains in long-term recovery to this day.
Of the 60 to 70 people who come through his center each month, Snitzer said “90 to 95 percent” are given a dual diagnosis of drug abuse and psychiatric illness.
Like his own treatment, Snizter said he highly recommends all patients stick to a consistent recovery process that works for them, whether it’s inpatient care, extended care or individual therapy.
“With society as a whole, we live in this world where we want immediate results,” Snitzer said. “It’s like a microwave. With addiction and mental health, it doesn’t work like that. It works over a long period of time.”
As with any problem, doctors say the first step toward a successful recovery is admitting there is a problem.
Once that is out in the open, Harrison-Restelli said good nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise and a strong social support base go a long way in helping patients overcome the obstacles.
“Sometimes, it’s a really small thing that turns into a really big thing,” Harrison-Restelli said. “If you drill down deep enough, sometimes you will find there is a serious problem.”