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UNG counselors discuss mental illness, marijuana at forum
Kel Lee Cutrell, associate director of counseling services at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, speaks at a forum Monday about the historical inhumane treatment of the mentally ill.

After being struck by a patient at the Central State Hospital, Kel Lee Cutrell knew there was only one correct response: a hug.

It was the human touch and compassion the patient needed, Cutrell said during a forum Monday on mental health at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus.

“I don’t think it’s rocket science to treat people humanely,” said Cutrell, who serves as the associate director of counseling services for the campus.

Cutrell worked for 3½ years in the 1990s at the mental health facility, where she said the treatment of the mentally ill was not up to par. The facility has been closing over the last few years due to the lack of funds and concern about patient care.

In a slideshow, Cutrell discussed the history of mental health treatment at the Politically Incorrect Club forum on the Gainesville campus. Poor living and treatment by the hospital staffs, including patients being hosed down and the excessive use of lobotomies, plagued the system.

“That was the treatment in the 1970s,” Cutrell said. “Not the 1770s or the 1870s but in the 1970s,” Cutrell said.

Patients were sometimes employed to do staff jobs, which gave hospitals an incentive to hold some patients for longer stays.

“Hospitals were keeping people longer than they needed to be kept, just so they could serve that purpose,” Cutrell said.

In addition to the discussion of mental health, personal counselor Tara Overzat discussed marijuana use and its medical effects.

Although the consequences of marijuana use have been overblown by “Reefer Madness” and other media, Overzat said there are some valid concerns from recent research.

“Marijuana is not as safe as many people believe it to be,” she said.

Some research has shown a greater rate of depression in long-term marijuana users than nonsmokers, Overzat said.

Effects on the amygdala, related to memory, and the nucleus accumbens, associated with pleasure, also have been associated with marijuana use, she said.

From cross-pollination and different growing techniques, the marijuana used today is also much stronger than in past generations.

“You have much more potent marijuana than what your parents experimented with back in the day,” Overzat said.

Students in the audience questioned what reform could be in sight for those in mental health facilities set to close. While Cutrell said she hopes that more money will be put into community service boards, others in the system for a long time will have trouble finding a place to go.

“For most of the adults, they have been so institutionalized that they can’t make it,” she said.

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