Breaking the Stigma: The Power of Mental Health and Substance Use Awareness | $name

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Breaking the Stigma: The Power of Mental Health and Substance Use Awareness

Thu, Mar 14, 2024  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by Jodi Mitchell

In our society, discussions around behavioral health, substance use and mental health often carry a heavy burden of stigma which can prevent individuals from seeking help and perpetuate a cycle of suffering in silence. However, by fostering open dialogue and promoting awareness and education, existing barriers can be overcome to create a more supportive care environment for individuals.

Understanding Behavioral Health

Behavioral health encompasses a wide range of conditions that impact a person's emotions, behaviors and well-being. From anxiety and depression to addiction and eating disorders, behavioral health needs can touch anyone regardless of age, gender or background. Yet, often due to stigma, many individuals may feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help for behavioral health challenges.

Often thought of synonymously, behavioral health and mental health are two different concepts. Mental Health primarily focuses on conditions that affect a person's thoughts, emotions, and mood. This includes diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Behavioral health, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of conditions and behaviors, including both mental health disorders and substance use disorders. 

Behavioral healthcare takes a holistic approach by considering how behaviors, lifestyle factors, and substance use intersect with mental health to impact overall wellness. Some entities take healthcare a step further by integrating care for physical health needs into behavioral healthcare to address the interconnected nature. Chronic health conditions may be exacerbated or missed if physical care and behavioral healthcare services do not co-exist.  Further, the integration of behavioral and physical healthcare may serve to break down costly expressions of stigma.

Undersanding Stigma and the Importance of People-First Language

Stigma refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that society attaches to certain groups or conditions, such as mental illness, substance use disorders, or disabilities. Stigma can lead to discrimination, prejudice, and marginalization, creating barriers for individuals to seek help, access resources, and fully participate in society. In the clinical setting, stigma and implicit bias can also affect the way individuals receive treatment.

By using people-first language, we acknowledge that individuals are not defined by any pre-existing conditions – physical nor behavioral.  Emphasizing a person rather than a person’s condition or diagnosis, people-first language puts an individual before any disability, disorder or illness. For example, instead of saying "a schizophrenic person," people-first language would say "a person living with schizophrenia."  This language can help reduce stigma by promoting understanding, respect, and empathy towards individuals facing behavioral health challenges, mental health issues, substance use disorders, or disabilities.

Together, challenging stigma and using people-first language can contribute to creating a more inclusive and supportive society where all are valued and treated with dignity and respect, regardless of health conditions or diagnoses.

Combatting Substance Use Stigma 

Substance use disorders (SUD) are often misunderstood and unfairly judged by society. SUD is a cluster of physiological, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms associated with the continued use of substances despite substance-related problems, distress, and/or impairment. Addiction is a state of psychological and/or physical dependence on the use of drugs or other substances, such as alcohol, or on activities or behaviors.

Rather than viewing the behaviors associated with substance use disorders as a moral failing, it’s crucial to recognize SUD as a complex health issue that requires compassionate treatment and support. By offering evidence-based interventions and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help, we can empower individuals to reclaim their lives.

Addressing Mental Health Stigma

Mental health conditions affect millions of people worldwide, yet stigma continues to be a major barrier to treatment and recovery. This stigma can manifest in various forms, from discriminatory attitudes to harmful stereotypes. By challenging these misconceptions and promoting acceptance, we can create a more inclusive society where individuals feel comfortable seeking support for their mental health needs.

Breaking down the stigma surrounding behavioral health needs requires a collective effort from communities, healthcare providers, policymakers and individuals alike. Through education, advocacy and empathy, a culture of acceptance and understanding can be fostered where seeking help for these issues is viewed as a sign of strength rather than weakness.

Any discussion about behavioral healthcare and the fight against stigma should incorporate the voices of people with lived experience in these spaces. It may be worthwhile to engage with harm reduction organizations to better understand the effects of stigma and learn ways to practically combat the issue together and advocate for healing and compassion. 

As stigma is broken surrounding behavioral healthcare, it's essential to remember that all are worthy of compassionate care and support. By challenging stigma and promoting awareness of collective vulnerabilities, we can create a brighter future where we feel empowered to prioritize our well-being and seek help when needed. Together, let's continue the conversation and work towards a more inclusive and supportive society for all.

For more on treatment, stigma and on the lived experiences of people with SUD, watch The Center’s documentary, Igniting Compassion.

Posted in Population Health

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