Changing Perspectives on Mental Illness to Reduce Stigma

    One of the most significant barriers preventing people from seeking help for their mental health and addiction problems is the stigma attached to both of these issues and seeking help for them.

    Mental health and addiction have a unique relationship. While not everyone with mental health problems also suffers from addiction, almost all those suffering from addiction have mental health problems. Addiction to drugs and alcohol often grows out of a personal need to mask depression, anxiety, paranoia, and other mental health problems. 

    For example, an individual may suffer from depression but is too embarrassed to admit they are depressed or to seek help. Too often, when someone with a “normal” life admits to being depressed, they are told to be grateful for what they have in life. While the people saying these things may be well-meaning, what they are doing is invalidating the feelings of the other person. They are also feeding into the idea that people with mental health issues can control what they are feeling. 

    To avoid those uncomfortable conversations admitting to mental health issues, many people turn to drugs or alcohol to hide or numb the feelings they don’t want to feel anymore. However, addiction comes with a stigma too as people with addictions are often looked down on. The stigma surrounding addiction includes the individual is weak, lazy, a criminal, or morally corrupt. 

    There is a wide range of advocacy groups working in both the fields of mental health and addiction to help reduce that stigma by emphasizing the fact that these are diseases. Depression isn’t something you can think your way out of, and ending an addiction isn’t as easy as just saying no.

    Seeing the connections between mental health and addiction is also an essential step towards changing the public perception of these diseases. There are alcohol addiction treatment centers throughout the United States and Canada actively working to help those struggling with addiction while also working to change the public perception of addiction. 

    One way they are working to change perception is by not hiding what they are doing. There was a time that alcohol and drug treatment was provided secretly, so others wouldn’t know who was being treated. Communities would fight a treatment center being opened because they didn’t want “those people” in their community. 

    Behavioral health communities are also working to change public perception. For example, Polaris Teen Center Depression Treatment works with teens to address the underlying mental health problems that may lead to addiction or other adverse outcomes used to mask the mental health problem.

    Depression and anxiety are incredibly common, yet there are many people still ashamed to admit their reality when it comes to mental health. Centers like Polaris focus on teens are working to end the stigma, so that young people can feel comfortable asking for help.

    Treatment centers for addiction and mental health work with advocacy groups to educate the public on the realities of mental health and addiction. Eliminating the stigma will make it easier for more people to seek the help they desperately need before it is too late.

    The recent opioid crisis throughout the United States has drawn a great deal of attention to the world of addiction and has opened many doors for those seeking help. There are more options in both residential treatment, as well as an intensive outpatient treatment and alternative recovery programs. The recent crisis has also made more people look at the underlying causes of addiction to help those currently struggling and to create more effective prevention programs.

    Changing public perception will lead to changes in public policy, as well as advancements in the health care coverage and access to resources for both addiction and mental health.