How to End the Stigma Surrounding Addiction and Mental Illness

Many people struggling with mental health issues and addiction don’t seek treatment because of the stigma that often surrounds their conditions.

An individual who discloses details of his or her situation in the workplace might fear rejection among colleagues or even losing their job. When choosing to go into treatment, a major concern that arises is how to integrate back into home and work environments. The person may feel—or actually be—watched and monitored, which creates stress and pressure when that individual tries to return to daily life after treatment.

Fear of judgment can keep people in the cycle of addiction and prevent them from seeking help to improve their lives. For those who do pursue treatment, these beliefs can be a trigger, which can lead to early relapse.

Research supports the notion that the stigma around mental health and addiction issues is real.

Despite greater awareness surrounding concurrent conditions of mental health and substance abuse, prejudice still exists, according to a report to promote awareness of this type of stigma by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Individuals who suffer with these issues face discrimination in the forms of housing, employment, and medical care as well as social isolation. Personal feelings of shame, inadequacy, frustration, and disappointment also contribute to negative self-esteem.

Unfortunately, this type of stigma can contribute to poverty, depression, and suicide among those who struggle in these circumstances.

Stigma is one of the primary reasons people with mental health issues don’t seek help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) reports. One in four adults who were surveyed (26 percent) said they believed that people are generally caring and sympathetic toward those with mental illness. Only 42 percent believed that a person with mental illness can be as successful at work as others. Individuals with addiction and mental health disorders frequently feel that the social stigma they face is worse than the diseases they live with each day.

Ignorance and fear are the two most prevalent factors contributing to these shameful feelings. Terms associated with mental issues and addiction such as “crazy,” “alcoholic,” and “addict,” which are often perpetuated through the media, further fuel negative stereotypes, and are not based in fact. Other myths have found their way into common thinking. One such example is the idea that mental illness equates to violence in those who suffer from it, when in fact, those who are mentally ill are more likely to be victimized and fall prey to crime.

The stigma of addiction and mental health is unfortunately also prevalent within the substance abuse and mental health fields themselves. Individuals working in these fields can hold these same negative views, which often stem from common misperceptions about the complexity of problems presented by people with concurrent mental health and substance abuse problems.

To help society move away from these negative perceptions, it’s important to understand the facts. Mental health and substance use issues span all walks of life—individuals of all ages, education levels, faiths, professions, and incomes. These issues touch many people, either through personally suffering from mental health disorders or addiction or knowing a family member or friend who does.

It’s important to recognize that mental illness is treatable and people struggling with such issues can, and do, recover. Addiction and mental health concerns should not be judged as character weakness, but as symptoms of complex biological, psychological, and sociological imbalances that require healing. People with mental illnesses need to be treated with the same respect, compassion, and empathy as anyone with a serious, treatable condition. By taking a compassionate approach, becoming aware of personal prejudices, and choosing language with care, all individuals can play active roles in changing the widespread stigma surrounding these challenging issues.

Perhaps the most important step we can take to help ourselves and loved ones facing issues of addiction and mental health, is to encourage treatment through professionals and facilities that truly understand the nature of these challenges, including the stigma that they face.

Where to Go to Heal

Liberating oneself from the stigmas associated with mental illness and addiction are the first steps on the path to wellness. The Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center offers a compassionate, safe environment for those seeking help for mental health and substance abuse concerns.

The Center is the first treatment facility in North America to provide a holistic method for recovery from addiction, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic disorder. The Center’s understanding, supportive atmosphere leads guests to ongoing recovery and emotional freedom.

Located in the pristine beauty of Western Canada, the Center offers comprehensive addiction recovery and wellness programs that combine the latest therapeutic techniques in both modern Western medicine and Eastern healing, including Ayurveda. Guests of the center are offered collaborative, extensive bio-psychosocial and spiritual assessments and receive individualized treatment plans that are regularly reviewed to ensure effectiveness. Guests also benefit from a dedicated 24-hour support staff, individual and group therapy sessions, yoga and meditation, massage, acupuncture, and regular exercise.

Savanna, a guest of the Center had this to say, “The Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center was the answer to my PTSD, severe depression, and 20-year heroin, cocaine, and pill addiction. The programs offered are from highly skilled professionals in their varied fields. From the vegetarian chefs, the massage therapist, and the canine assisted therapy dog, to the yoga instructors, doctors, and therapists, to psychodrama and beyond, I feel their unique methods and healthy living and meditation are the right answer for anyone looking to free themselves. I know this to be true as it has worked for me.”

Learn more about the programs  offered at The Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center.

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About the Author

Nirmala Raniga

Founder of the Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center, Vedic Educator
In addition to being a Vedic Educator, certified in Primordial Sound Meditation , Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga , and Perfect Health: Ayurvedic Lifestyle, Nirmala is an addiction specialist and the founder of the Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center —a residential addiction recovery treatment center in Squamish Valley, B.C., Canada. The Chopra Addiction and Wellness Center offers holistic recovery programs based on the ...Read more