There continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness. There is also the stigma attached to substance abuse in general. Put the two together, and these are a group of individuals struggling with few people who truly understand. People living with mental illness and addiction face challenges with symptoms that are more persistent, severe, and resistant to treatment compared with individuals who have either a mental health diagnosis or addiction. Individuals diagnosed with mental illness, substance abuse, or both often face prejudice, discrimination, and judgment. This can contribute to them note seeking help. Ignorance, fear, and lack of sensitivity and perspective keep people from understanding mental health and addiction and thus the cycle continues. Each and every one of us has known someone who has struggled with either mental illness, substance abuse, or both. Studies have found that individuals who have a mental illness, such as anxiety or mood disorders, are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. For those with mental illness, especially that which has gone undiagnosed or unsuccessfully treated, using alcohol or substances might appear helpful in reducing symptoms. Self-medicating can be the only thing that has, at least for a few moments, made an individual with untreated mental illness feel better. It is no surprise that one might continue to use and ultimately abuse the substance.
One of the ways to mitigate this stigma is to educate the general public about both mental illness and the nature of alcohol and substance abuse. Helping people to understand, build empathy and compassion for individuals who experience mental illness and/or substance abuse is a good first start. Remind people that even if they cannot relate or have had different experiences, that does not mean that is the case for everyone else. People need to be able to see outside of their personal experiences. Another way to help reduce the stigma is to model acceptance and compassion towards those diagnosed with substance abuse or mental illness. It only takes one person to make a difference in someone's life, and others will see and hopefully follow suit.
Dr. Rachel Needle has specialized training in the area of substance abuse. She is a professional consultant to substance abuse facilities and assists them in expanding and enhancing clinical programming. Dr. Needle also does expert
training for staff members at residential and outpatient facilities that specialize in alcohol and substance abuse.
| Twitter: @DrRachelNeedle
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