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Breaking stigmas of mental health and addiction

What a loser, a no hoper, a junkie, a bludger. They’re a stain on society. They brought it upon themselves, why should I have sympathy for them?

Unfortunately when it comes to depicting the nature of an addict, it’s common to hear phrases such as the ones above bandied around to describe them. 

Such phrases are cruel and divisive and rarely prompt someone suffering with the disease of addiction to seek treatment. 

Most people don’t know that substance use and dependency disorders are officially classified as mental health disorders (1).

In recent years, initiatives such as World Mental Health Day have sought to raise awareness around mental health issues and reduce the stigma associated with suffering from mental illness. 

Stigma around mental illness delays or prevents people from wanting to seek help.

While great strides have been made around some forms of mental illness, the disease of addiction appears especially impacted by misconception and misrepresentation – negative references such as the ones above as well as blaming and shaming do little to prompt an addict to seek help they need.

Here are a few facts about addiction and mental health and how you can help someone who is the grip of substance use disorder.

  • It’s not clear cut what comes first – substance use disorder or other underlying mental health issues. What’s important is seeking out expert addiction treatment that addresses all aspects of mental health.
  • Labelling addicts with cruel, divisive labels does nothing to help them seek treatment. Neither does blaming them for “bringing it upon themselves”. Instead acknowledge that they suffering from a mental health disorder and that help is available.
  • Support an addict with honest language that supports the person, yet acknowledges the dysfunctional aspect of addictive “talk” and behaviour. Use language that separates the person from their addiction. Avoid enabling behaviours. Tell them that you love them but will not support them in addictive addiction and the behaviours that accompany it.  
  • Let an addict know that help is available, there is always hope and recovery is possible, provided they are prepared to put in some hard work. Encourage them to make that hard work count by seeking expert help to assist in the recovery process.

Focus on what recovery entails and the benefits of freedom from addiction – strength, resilience, courage, bravery, perseverance, colour, life, service and connection are but a few!

Sources

(1) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5” (DSM-V)

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