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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Stigmas Associated With Addiction And Mental Illness

Addiction and mental illness stigmas

Last week we wrote about Mental Illness Awareness Week 2012 and we have often written about the stigma associated with the disease of addiction and mental illness. The most basic reason for the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness is that most people who suffer from these find it hard to talk about it and they fear that they may lose their family, friends, employment, military career and may face incarceration should their secret be discovered. Additionally, families don't want to share the fact that their loved one suffers from the disease of addiction or a mental illness, let alone the combination of both - co-occurring disorders. Unlike when a family is presented with a diagnosis of other chronic or acute disorders, like cancer, diabetes, autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy...we don't rush to share the fact that our loved one is addicted to a substance or has a mental health issues. The fear of the stigma stops us and we start to isolate ourselves from our friends, other family members, co-workers, etc. Often we don't even know where to turn for help.

News stories about these stigmas

You don't really have to search very hard to find news stories that deal with the impact of stigma, as it relates to addiction and mental illness. It is important to remember that the problem with stigmatizing people who suffer from mental illness and/or addiction is not limited to the United States, this is a worldwide problem. Consider some of the following:

Vivid statistics about mental illness in the United States

This past weekend NBC's Melissa Harris Perry profiled some of the vivid statistics about mental illness in the United States.

If you are having trouble viewing this video, you can see it here.

What can you do about the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental illness?

There are a few simple steps you can take to help alleviate the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental illness:
  1. Stay informed: watch the news, read articles that deal with stigmas attached to addiction and mental illness.
  2. If you find someone in your family has an addiction or mental illness, then don't hide, seek support groups like Al-Anon or Mental Health America  
  3. Don't be afraid to reach out to someone who appears to be suffering from addiction and/of mental illness or a family member of same. Encourage your co-worker to seek help through an Employee Assistance Program. Many private and public sector employees offer such programs.
  4. If your loved one is receiving treatment for addiction and/or a co-occurring disorder, then take advantage of the treatment center's family program   
Finally, remember that Mental Illness Awareness should not be about one week in October, it should be about being aware all the time. It will be the only way we can deal with this national health crisis; remember it takes a community. Be a part of the community.  

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