This article was written by James Malervy and published by RCA.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an important time to bring attention to mental health’s impact on our daily lives. Mental health is a critical component of our overall well-being and can significantly affect how we function in our daily lives. It encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and is crucial in our ability to handle stress, build relationships, and make meaningful connections with others.
Despite its importance, mental health issues are often stigmatized, and individuals who struggle with them may feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help. This is why Mental Health Awareness Month is so important. It provides a platform to educate people about mental health and promote understanding and acceptance of those struggling with it.
Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Issues and Addiction
Substance and mental health disorders often co-occur, with one leading to the other. According to SAMHSA, about 9 million people in the United States have co-occurring conditions. Data shows high rates of co-occurring SUD and mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, ADHD, GAD, and borderline personality disorder.
Surprisingly, only 7% of these people get treatment for both conditions. A whopping 60% get no treatment at all. The lack of treatment can be due to many factors. However, stigma is one of the most significant barriers to seeking help for addiction and mental health issues.
Stigma manifests in different ways, including negative stereotypes, discrimination, and shame. For example, people with drug addiction or mental health issues may be labeled as weak or lazy or face discrimination in the workplace, healthcare settings, social situations, and even by friends and family members. They may also be subject to negative stereotypes, such as the belief that people with addiction are “criminals” or “junkies.”
This attitude can create a culture of shame and fear, causing the individuals to withdraw, isolate and not seek the help and support they need. Sadly, this may further exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness and addiction, leading to more significant problems and potentially life-threatening situations.
Overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction requires a concerted effort to educate people and promote awareness and understanding. It’s essential to recognize that mental health disorders and addiction are medical conditions that can affect anyone, regardless of their background, and that seeking treatment is a sign of strength and resilience. By challenging stereotypes and promoting empathy and understanding, we can create a more supportive and inclusive society for those who struggle with mental health and addiction.
Signs of Common Mental Health Issues
There are numerous mental health issues, each with unique signs and symptoms. These issues can affect individuals of any age, race, or gender and significantly impact their daily lives. It’s essential to recognize the signs of these mental health issues and seek professional help when necessary. Here are some signs of a few common mental health issues:
- Excessive worry or fear that is difficult to control
- Feeling restless or on edge
- Muscle tension or trembling
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Panic attacks
- Avoiding situations or activities that cause anxiety
- Persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Intrusive memories or flashbacks of a traumatic event
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma
- Negative changes in mood or thoughts, such as guilt or shame
- Hyperarousal, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating, irritability, or being easily startled
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, or chest pain
- Preoccupation with weight or food
- Obsessively counting calories or restricting food intake
- Binge eating or purging behavior, such as vomiting or using laxatives
- Excessive exercise
- Distorted body image
- Withdrawal from social activities or previously enjoyed hobbies
Substance Use Disorders
- Difficulty controlling substance use
- Continued use of a substance despite negative consequences
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance
- Tolerance, or needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect
- Spending significant time obtaining or using the substance
- Neglecting responsibilities or relationships due to substance use
It is important to note that everyone experiences mental health issues differently, and these signs and symptoms may not be present in every individual. And as discussed earlier, these issues can often co-occur, highlighting the importance of seeking professional medical care.
Addiction and mental health issues are often linked. Individuals with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms. In turn, substance use can worsen mental health symptoms and lead to addiction.
At the same time, consuming larger amounts of drugs or alcohol over a long period can also cause changes in brain chemistry, leading to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. That’s why dual diagnosis requires an integrated approach that addresses both conditions simultaneously.
An integrated approach includes a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, support groups, and lifestyle changes tailored to the individual’s specific needs. This approach is most effective when delivered by trained professionals with experience treating individuals with comorbid conditions. If you or your loved one has mental health disorder, substance use disorder, or both, it’s best to reach out for help. Dual diagnosis is a tricky condition that requires specialized treatment, and attempting to self-medicate or ignore the problem can lead to further harm.
As we observe Mental Health Awareness Month this May, it’s important to remember that help is available 24/7 from trusted treatment providers like Recovery Centers of America (RCA).