Stigma stands in the way of people getting the treatment they need to recover from addiction or live with a mental illness. It’s the lack of knowledge, fear of talking about their issues, and facing possible rejection or discrimination from others that all too often prevents people from seeking help.
So what is stigma exactly? It’s an attempt to place a label on a group of people that devalues them. Stigma is a stamp of shame or disapproval that is used as an excuse to discriminate against a certain group of people. It is about automatically disrespecting someone because of circumstances that are beyond their control.
Stigma has far reaching, damaging effects. For those with substance abuse problems or mental health issues, stigma often results inadequate coverage from medical insurance, rejection from family and friends, fear, violence, and other conflicts at home, and discrimination in other areas, such as the workplace, at school, and with housing and healthcare.
How can we overcome the stigma of mental illness and addiction?
Stigma is a big problem for many Americans struggling with addiction and mental illness. Outdated ideas about addiction and mental illness continue to prevail and affect those who suffer from them in negative ways. Many still view a mental illness as a sign of weakness or something that a person has chosen to have. The same is often said of those who struggle with addiction. These attitudes do nothing but make recovery more difficult for the people who need it most. Stigma can range from more obvious examples such as discrimination with healthcare, education, and housing, to subtler forms of rejection, such as pretending nothing is wrong or being ignored by family and friends.
There are a few things we can to do to deal with how stigma impacts us in our everyday lives however. These coping methods will hopefully help someone struggling with a mental illness or a form of addiction get the support they need.
-Look for treatment – This can be tough when you feel scared, ashamed, and doubtful. But getting a diagnosis and finding way to cope with symptoms of an illness or getting started with recovery is the only way to begin taking back control of your life. Counseling or therapy will give you the skills needed to cope with stigma from others and to develop the self esteem needed to continue healing.
-Find the right kind of support – It’s important to have support you can rely on when dealing with addiction or mental illness. Look for a support group, therapy group, or other organization that deals specifically with your issue. It’s a good idea to seek support from the right places where you know you’ll be heard and respected.
-Learn to stop identifying yourself by your illness – Stop calling yourself an addict, schizophrenic, or bipolar person. The illness doesn’t define you, it’s simply something you cope with in day to day life.
How stigma affects alcohol and addiction treatment.
People who are the victims of stigma all too often internalize the shame, disrespect, and discrimination they have received as a result of their condition. For those struggling with alcoholism or addiction, this means they often take the blame and view themselves as weak for having a problem. This leads to a person going to great lengths to hide their drug or alcohol problem rather than getting help.