Understanding The Stigma of Mental Illness and Addiction
Living with a mental illness and addiction is challenging in many ways. You not only have the everyday struggles that come with substance use disorders and the symptoms of mental illness, but you also have to face the challenges that come with being viewed negatively due to stigmas, stereotypes, prejudice, and misconceptions about these disorders. Negative attitudes and beliefs are common in society, and can lead to discrimination, which can be overt, like rude comments made to your face, or they can be subtle, like a person avoiding you or choosing not to hire you because of assumptions that you will be unreliable, dangerous, or violent.
The stigma of mental illness and addiction can lead to lost opportunities like health care, safe housing, employment, and a social network. It can also cause you to develop low self-esteem and judge yourself harshly, leading to giving up in areas like looking for work or trying to make friends.
The general population tends to treat those with mental illness more harshly than those with a physical disability or injury, as it is an “invisible” issue that cannot be seen at first glance in most people. There is a misconception that you should be able to “control yourself”, believe that help is not deserved, or that you can think your way through mental health disorders. Some of the ways these beliefs are conveyed include:
- Using hurtful or dismissive language
- Withholding help
- Avoiding people with mental health disorders
- Coercive treatment
- Creating segregated institutions for those with mental illness
People are unwilling to socialize with, work next to, or have a family member marry a person with a mental illness, nor would they want a mental health facility in their neighborhood. This may come from a place of misinformation or fear, as well as learned behaviors in the community. Family, friends, and coworkers put pressure on their loved ones to “act normally”.
There is also a stigma around seeking help for addiction and mental illness. Even though mental illness and addiction are some of the most common health issues in the US, shame and societal disapproval run rampant, reducing opportunities at work, increasing the amount of bullying, and causing issues to do with insurance coverage, health care, housing, opportunities for work, all of which influences a person’s self-esteem, causing them to feel hopeless and isolated, and preventing them from getting the help they need. People also avoid seeking treatment out of shame, being unable to pay for treatment, or because they are isolated and finding help feels too difficult.
What Influences the Stigma Around Mental Illness and Addiction
This stigma in American society comes from many places, including media showing those with mental illness as homicidal, a person with weak character, or a person who cannot function in society. You see the stigma in our everyday language, calling a person “crazy” when they are acting oddly, and you see general attitudes making fun of “snowflakes” who have anxiety or telling people to “cheer up” or “try harder” when they have clinical depression or other disorders.
To make a positive change, and reduce the harmful effects of the stigma of mental illness and addiction, you can take steps like:
- Protesting media that show inaccurate or harmful depictions of mental health disorders and drug abuse
- Stop conversations that involve gossip or discussions about mental illness and addiction that are untrue, and correct the information being provided
- Educate yourself on addiction and mental illness, so you will not believe mistruths when you hear them
- Educate others, including your friends and family members on true, evidence-based facts you have learned on the subject
- If you own a business, consider hiring a person with a mental illness
- Volunteer or donate to information sessions, mental health awareness campaigns, and share their posts on social media
- Share your lived experiences with other people, especially if you are a person with a mental illness, if you are a person in recovery, or if you believe your story could help others understand what stigma is
What Happens to Untreated Mental Illness and Addiction?
If you do not seek treatment for your substance use disorder and mental illness, they will not go away. They will gradually influence one another, becoming worse over time because:
- You may begin to self-medicate for mental illness symptoms with drugs and alcohol
- Substances like methamphetamine or marijuana can trigger psychotic reactions
- Drugs and alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of psychiatric medications like mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anxiety medications
- Alcohol can make depression and anxiety worse
- Untreated mental illness can cause chronic pain or physical health issues to develop in the body, leading to drug abuse to cope with the pain or distress
- If you are at risk, due to genetics or biological reasons, for developing mental illness, drugs can push you over the edge
- Hiding from mental illness using drinking or drug use will cause you to miss out on learning social skills, stress reduction strategies, and other coping tools to help you deal with discomfort
- Addiction and mental illness need to be treated together at the same time, in the same place, in an integrated dual diagnosis program so that the treatment of one issue does not make the other one worse.
Early treatment usually leads to better outcomes when it comes to substance abuse and mental illness. Without proper care, your life will become unstable, and you may lose your job, housing, and relationships, or end up incarcerated. Some untreated mental illness and addiction leads people to suicide, with an estimated 90% of deaths by suicide attributed to a mental illness that was not treated.
How To Overcome Addiction and Mental Illness
The best way to overcome addiction and mental illness is to get treatment. It does not matter if you think people will treat you differently or label you as “an addict” or “bipolar”, the only thing that matters is that your life is being run by disorders that are treatable. Shame, self-doubt, and fear can get in your way if you let it, but taking the leap and asking for professional help can provide relief of symptoms and help you heal the underlying causes of your dual diagnosis.
Some other helpful things you can do for yourself include avoiding social isolation by continuing friendships, communicating with family members about what is going on, and attending social events and support groups. Positive self-talk is also helpful. Don’t believe negative stereotypes and ignorant statements about you, because you are not your disorder, and your diagnosis is only a small part of your life.
Why Choose TruPath Recovery
At TruPath Recovery, we offer dual diagnosis treatment plans that are comprehensive and individualized to each person, so no matter which substance(s) you have been using, and which mental health disorders you need help getting under control, we will be able to create a personalized plan that will work for you. We offer treatments like:
- Medical detox and medication-assisted treatment plans
- Behavioral health therapies
- Individual psychotherapy and counseling
- Group therapy and peer support
- Holistic treatments like art therapy, yoga and meditation
- Experiential therapy
- Case management services and relapse prevention programs
- Sober homes and long-term recovery resources
If you or a loved one has been abusing drugs or alcohol, and/or has symptoms of mental illness and are looking for treatment solutions, please call us today. We offer inpatient and outpatient services depending on your unique needs and can help you with insurance verification. We are here to help you get healthy, overcome addiction, regain your strength, and improve your quality of life with your physical and mental health under control.