There is an incredible amount of stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness. You may be wondering, what is stigma? Stigma, when it relates to addiction and mental illness, is a concept that explains the strong negative impression that is often associated with individuals who experience these illnesses.
These negative perceptions or discriminations against people can be from other characteristics, for example, disabilities, sexuality, or culture. In this blog, we’ll be going over stigma as it relates to addiction and mental illness, but stigma affects many other individuals too.
Why is Addiction Stigma Harmful?
Stigma is harmful to those with substance abuse disorder and mental illness in a multitude of ways. Three main ways that stigma is harmful is:
Access to Treatment
Individuals who experience stigma surrounding addiction and mental health are less likely to seek treatment. Oftentimes, nurses and doctors have their own stigma about treating those who need help with addiction and mental health. These negative attitudes cause individuals to avoid receiving treatment.
When people avoid treatment it only worsens their condition. Both substance abuse disorder and mental illness are medical conditions that need treatment from medical professionals. Lack of treatment can lead to incarceration, loss of job, and death.
At Harm Reduction Center, we know substance abuse and mental illness can happen to anyone. We treat all of our clients with respect and dignity as they receive treatment. We also know that sometimes an individual can have both substance abuse and mental illness at the same time, and we offer treatment options for those simultaneously.
Stigma can greatly affect how the public perceives those with addiction and mental illness. This can cause an uproar when public health interventions implement certain services. Free services like needle exchanges, therapy, or drug testing can cause the public to be upset and push back against these services.
These services greatly reduce the risks associated with addiction and mental illness. For those with substance abuse disorder access to clean needles and drug testing saves the medical sector a ton of money. This can help reduce diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and overdoses. Free therapies and suicide help can greatly reduce long-term medical costs as well.
If these services aren’t offered it only worsens the outcome for individuals suffering, and increases the cost of medical care and incarceration.
Self-Esteem and Social Health
When individuals experience this stigma, it decreases their self-esteem, self-worth, and only worsens their mental health. Therefore, these individuals feel ashamed and are unlikely to open up about their problems. They may feel isolated and avoid friends and family. This creates an even more vicious cycle to break out of.
Some of these feelings of shame and self-doubt can come from within because these stigmas are so prevalent in our society. Fortunately, some leaders and celebrities are speaking about their own struggles and this helps to normalize and bring awareness.
How Can I Help Remove The Addiction Stigma?
If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction or mental health problems, there are ways to help break down the stigma.
- Show kindness to yourself or others in these sensitive situations.
- Give sympathetic support when possible.
- Try actively listening to those while withholding judgement.
- Treat the person as who they are, not as their illness.
- Research and become knowledgeable about addiction and mental illness.
- Respect people with addiction and mental illness, like you would anyone else.
- Refrain from unkind labels and words.
- Keep a neutral or positive attitude when possible.
- Speak out if you see or hear other people perpetuating harmful stigmas.
- Share your own story about stigma, addiction, or mental health if you’re comfortable.
Don’t Let Stigma Hold You Back
Don’t let the stigma surrounding addiction or mental health hold you back. Everyone deserves respect and medical treatment when they need it. Also, it doesn’t have to be a secret unless you want it to be. The professionals at Harm Reduction Center in Boynton Beach, Florida are ready to help you and your family.