Mental health is just as important as physical well-being, however, many societies still struggle to recognize that mental illness is a medical issue—not a moral failing. Unfortunately, the stigma that so often surrounds mental health sometimes prevents people from seeking treatment for mental illness.
The Link Between Substance Abuse Disorders and Mental Illness
Although drug and alcohol abuse does not necessarily cause mental disturbance (or vice versa) there is a high prevalence of comorbidity between substance abuse disorders and poor mental health.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse1, there are three possible reasons for this:
Drug and alcohol abuse can exacerbate symptoms of mental disturbances, including an increased risk of psychosis.
Individuals who experience mental illness may be more likely to self-medicate by turning to drugs and alcohol.
Conditions like underlying brain deficits and exposure to trauma can contribute to both mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
Because substance abuse and mental health are often closely linked, it’s important for substance abuse disorder treatment plans to incorporate treatment for mental wellness. In most cases, this holistic approach is the best way to ensure long-term recovery.
Getting to the Bottom of the Stigma
The history of mental illness3 and the public’s perception of it sheds a great deal of light on why negative attitudes persist. Centuries of misinformation and abuse take time to undo, and people today are still experiencing the aftermath of a long history of mistreatment in the area of mental illness.
In various times throughout history, mental illness was regarded as a spiritual issue, with some individuals persecuted as witches or hosts for demonic possession. It’s tragic to think that so many innocent people were mistreated and imprisoned for a medical condition beyond their control.
Unfortunately, public attitudes didn’t improve much over the centuries. In the 1840s, American mental health reformer Dorothea Dix lobbied the government to create special hospitals equipped to treat mental health disorders.
In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National Mental Health Act, which created the National Institute of Mental Health in 1949.
However, rampant abuse in mental hospitals in the 1940s and 50s led to a call for change. Throughout the 1960s, mental health hospitals throughout the U.S. closed, causing the number of institutionalized mentally ill to drop from a peak of 560,000 to 130,000 by 1980. Studies show that up to 70 percent of mental health patients with schizophrenia showed improvement and stability after the introduction of anti-psychotic drugs in the 1950s.
Although mental health treatment has improved in recent decades, the stigma associated with mental health disorders lingers. Research2 reveals that up to 55 percent of inmates in state prisons and 45 percent of federal prisoners have some form of mental illness. In many cases, these prisoners are forced to live in the general population because there are not enough beds available in mental facilities.
Fortunately, much work has been done in recent years to remove the stigma of mental health care. There are more treatment options than ever before, and people increasingly recognize mental health matters as medical issues, rather than a choice or a lack of good character.
Recovery and Renewal Starts with Summit
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1 National Institute on Drug Abuse – www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-illnesses/why-do-drug-use-disorders-often-co-occur-other-men