The word addiction still paints a stereotype of what a person with substance abuse problems looks like. Several people still believe it’s a moral failing. Many biases stem from the way we were brought up, cultural taboos, negative experiences or a lack of understanding. Stigma is one of the biggest challenges people face when they talk about addiction and mental health.
During the Bell Let’s Talk day on January 27th, 2016, as part of the Edgewood Health Network, we will work with Healthy Minds Canada to shed a light on addiction and mental illnesses that many of our clients often have in conjunction with addiction. Canadians are certainly making a progress in terms of talking about mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder. What many don’t know is that people with mental illness are twice as likely to have substance abuse problems. Some research reveals that 20% of Canadians with mental illness have substance abuse problems. The rate jumps to almost 50% for people with schizophrenia and substance use disorders.
Fear, stigma and lack of support are still factors that are affecting Canadians who need help with addiction and mental illness. How can you help?
- Talk about it. We talk about several diseases and illnesses, but we aren’t as open to talk about addiction and mental illnesses. The more conversations you have about addiction and recovery, the more likely everyone will begin to realize how we are all affected by it. Addiction is a treatable disease where long-term recovery is possible. Conversations about recovery can help end the stigma and encourage people to reach out for help.
- Be Mindful of Your Words. According to the Canadian Medical Association, 2 out of 3 people with mental illness suffer in silence for fear of being judged or rejected. Often, we are ashamed or scared to disclose the fact that we know someone or it’s ourselves that need help. Sometimes, it’s the words you use that can make someone with an addiction and mental illness feel hurt, ashamed and avoid talking about what’s really going on with them. Words, such as “junkie or nut job” are examples of words that cultivate stereotypes and stigma.
- Educate yourself. 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness or addiction at some point in their lives. Being able to recognize the signs of an addiction and mental illness can be a matter of saving a life. Knowing where to get help or who to reach out for support can make a huge difference too. With addiction, people can spend years in denial or thinking about getting help before they make a move. Being prepared with resources and options for treatment can give a person hope knowing you really care and support their recovery.
- Be compassionate. Whether it’s at home with your kids, in your workplace or at school, try to foster a place that makes people feel safe and supported so that they can talk, ask for help and request accommodations when they need it. There are several organizations you can contact to get information and guidelines on how to properly implement policies and provide support for your kids, employees or students that need help with an addiction and have mental illnesses.
As we move into 2016, let’s make better choices with our words, our workplace policies, and in our schools about how we view, treat and support people who have an addiction, are in recovery or have mental illnesses. People with addiction and mental illnesses don’t choose to have these diseases and illnesses, but you can choose to be kind and understanding.[Infographic about Addiction and Mental Illness in Canada]