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Help is on the way: Expansion builds on mental health infrastructure

In the medieval-style world portrayed in the HBO series "Game of Thrones," men dealt with the stresses of a violent, king-of-the-hill culture through the consumption of alcohol, visits to brothels or the plotting of ultimate revenge.

No, this isn't an editorial about that fantasy TV series. After all, if you did not watch Game of Thrones, you were decidedly among the majority. The final episode of the eight-season series on HBO attracted 18 million viewers when it was originally broadcast a couple of weeks ago. More viewers have watched since, but it's still a relative smattering of the overall population.

For our purposes, it's only important to know the series well reflected a masculine tendency to ignore one's own mental state, to tough it out when circumstances fill one with anxiety, uncertainty or unhealthy thoughts. To do otherwise might reveal weakness, and weakness in a world of thrones, swords and kingdoms can be deadly.

Now to the real world: Kit Harington is an actor who played the brooding but valiant Jon Snow in Game of Thrones for all eight of its seasons. In the pages of this newspaper, readers recently learned Harington, 32, had checked into a wellness retreat, using some down time in his schedule reportedly to work out issues with stress, exhaustion and alcohol use.

In many ways, attitudes about Harington's need for mental health attention aren't all that different these days than in that fictional setting. Why can't he just man up, right?

That Harington has the awareness to seek out help (and certainly the financial wherewithal) is, rather, a credit, and ought to be examined as such.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Less than half of them actually receive mental health services. Among adolescents, nearly half are believed to suffer from some mental disorder.

In our little oasis known as Northwest Arkansas, we are not immune. Most people can recognize the fact in extremely disruptive cases, ones that lead to reported crimes. Beyond those, however, are thousands more in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our places of faith, in our schools.

The recent news that Northwest Health plans to spend $4.35 million to renovate a hospital floor in Springdale to add 30 beds for mental health care is worth noting in the continuing fight against mental illness. It's the second expansion in as many years for the hospital.

It's not hard to think back a few years when local capacity to deliver in-patient mental health care was anemic.

Things are getting better. The opening of the Northwest Arkansas crisis stabilization unit in Fayetteville is approaching, giving area law enforcement a place to take disruptive people in need of mental health services far more than a jail cell. Once they're stabilized, the availability of longer-term care facilities is a necessity to guide people toward a lasting management of their ailment.

The state is testing the waters with "pilot" stabilization units like the one in Fayetteville with hope to develop more than the four authorized so far. Craighead, Pulaski, Sebastian and Washington counties each stepped up to provide facilities; the state will provide annual funding for operation. In a state that has ignored the plight of the mentally ill for too long, these facilities are a needed step in the right direction.

Private facilities offer avenues for respite and treatment, too.

Northwest Arkansas can be proud of its growing population, for it reflects the qualities that make our region such a wonderful place to live. But population growth also means a heavier load on mental health care systems. It's exciting to see the region's health care providers responding to that need.

We don't know anything about Harington's challenges, except for the fact that he's taken responsibility for his own mental health. When someone of his stature in the entertainment world does so, it helps set an example, demonstrating that it is far from weak to seek out help. Indeed, it's a sign of strength.