– by Newport Academy
Facing and healing from a mental health or substance use disorder is hard enough. But there’s another layer of pain that often comes along with those challenges: dealing with other people’s reactions to them.
Stigma is the word used to describe the negative attitudes held by individuals and society about those with mental health struggles including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorder, and other mental or physical health challenges. Research shows that people labeled with drug addiction are viewed as more blameworthy and dangerous compared to individuals labeled with mental illness—who, in turn, are viewed more harshly than those with physical disabilities.
The truth is that individuals who suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders are never to blame for their conditions. Moreover, the roots of these conditions are complex and typically include genetic and neurobiological factors, as well as environmental causes such as trauma, abuse, societal pressures, and family dysfunction.
Sadly, stigma is a significant obstacle to increasing awareness around substance abuse and mental health, and it also prevents people from getting the help and support they need. Those who are stigmatized often experience negative impact, including
· Social exclusion and isolation
· Decreased self-esteem
· Lack of a supportive community
· Difficulty finding education or employment opportunities
· Limited access to quality health care.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 10.9 percent of those who need treatment for substance use actually receive it, and only about half of those with a diagnosable mental disorder or self-reported mental health condition get treatment. People choose not to disclose that they have dependency or mental health issues, for fear that they might be treated differently.
Even in cases where substance use does not exist, stigma around depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can indirectly lead to addiction. That’s because people who aren’t getting help may try to self-medicate using drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or other self-destructive behaviors, such as binge-eating or other eating disorders. Among teenagers, the likelihood of risky behavior, social media addiction, and cell phone addiction also increases, as adolescents look for distraction and escape from the pain of mental health issues and the resulting stigma.
The good news is that treatment works. There are now more treatment approaches than ever before for substance abuse and mental health conditions, including holistic approaches, residential treatment, outpatient programs, experiential modalities, and mindfulness practices.
Ways We Can All Fight Stigma
To reduce stigma, action must be taken at all levels of society. Both individuals and organizations can make a difference.
· The media can avoid sensational stories about mental illness and substance abuse, and portray more stories of accomplishment by people in recovery.
· Political leaders can support policies that help people access mental health and substance abuse treatment more easily, and lobby for funding to raise awareness around these issues.
· Researchers can continue to study and monitor attitudes toward substance abuse and mental illness.
· Mental health and recovery organizations can provide education and resources in their communities.
· Everyone can change the way they refer to those with substance use or mental health disorders by avoiding labels. Instead of saying, “she’s an addict,” for example, say “she has substance use disorder” or “she is recovery.”
· Individuals can learn how to offer reassurance, companionship, emotional strength, and acceptance to a friend, family member, neighbor, or others in recovery. That means asking caring questions, expressing concern, and letting go of our preconceived notions about substance use and mental illness.
We must all work together to change our attitudes, so that more people will get the help they need to recover and live full, healthy lives.