How Mental Health and addiction are intrinsically linked
On October 10th, World Mental Health Day 2018 will take place, allowing people to engage in an international conversation around mental health.
Founded in 1992 by the World Federation of Mental Health, the event was conceived with the intention of raising awareness around the globe on mental health matters. It’s fair to say that, since its inception, the discussions surrounding mental health have progressed in a positive direction. As a society, we are beginning to realise these conditions are not a sign of weakness and instead view them as what they are; debilitating illnesses that can have a stranglehold on trying to live a normal life.
It is widely accepted that mental disorders can lead to struggles with addiction, as sufferers grapple with their symptoms and turn to self-medicating through alcohol, drugs or several other vices. Indeed, there are strong similarities between dependency related issues and mental health problems. By some reports, mental health issues affect around 80% of people in some way in England. And while mental health gains awareness around the globe, the devastating effects on the individuals who suffer from mental health awareness has overtaken addiction awareness by a long shot.
Why then, if we have become so informed on mental health awareness, is the subject of addiction still bogged down by the same disproven dogma that has held back progress in mental illness for so long?
How does addiction affect our minds?
Before beginning to consider the wider implications of mental health and addiction, you need to understand how one fuels the other. Addiction can affect a person in a variety of ways, but the two principal areas of concern are Behavioural and Emotional processes.
Habitual substance abuse can dramatically change a person’s behaviours and add new problematic ones on top of an underlying mental disorder. These can manifest into seriously self-destructive tenancies, such as self-harming and acute addiction to substances. An addict might find themselves less concerned with responsibilities like work and family, and personal hygiene takes a back seat to fuelling their addictions.
They may become nonchalant or dismissive, though this can give way to intense paranoia once the addiction fully takes control, causing someone to lose control.
These are usually more impactful than behavioural changes as they completely alter how someone perceives their life and the world. Many addicts may find themselves experiencing low self-esteem because of their mental distress. Depression and anxiety are two very common conditions found in addicts and among the most damaging.
The so-called ‘comedown’ occurs when the effects of a substance begin to recede. As it dissipates, the individual may have an extremely negative response which, when compiled with the wider effects of a mental disorder, drives them to use again. It becomes a vicious cycle which can lead the addict to a dangerously unstable mental state.
Do we underestimate addiction?
The problem with current stigma relating to addiction may lie in how we approach the underlying causes in a meaningful way. There are days, weeks and months dedicated to alcohol abstinence, but they are geared towards casual drinkers for charity and skirts around the very real issue of alcoholism.
This poses a question for us; do people really understand how serious an addiction crisis is? Let’s consider the US. They are facing the worst prescription drug epidemic in contemporary history as opiates have been added to many medications without the consideration of their addictive nature. The extent of the problem is only just beginning to be fully comprehended.
What’s shocking is that by their own proud admission, they are one of, if not the most, powerful nations on the planet. They have a military budget that is larger than the next nine countries combined; the state of California on its own registers as one of the world’s best-performing economies. So why is this problem so widespread in America? The answer can be found in the mainstream view of addictions.
In a culture run under the illusion of absolute meritocracy, it’s tempting for the public to view an addict’s situation as self-inflicted. Many pronounced voices in the media and online, who aren’t experts, argue that addicts can only blame themselves for their problem. This is wrong. There are a number of reasons why people get addicted, like being prescribed a drug to help a patient heal from medical procedures, but conversely ends up resulting in one of the most vicious cycles of addiction of any other substance. It’s easier to dismiss addicts as irresponsible and ignore them than it is to confront the underlying issues that cause addiction and try to help those in need.
How can Addiction Catch up to Mental Health Awareness
Having a World Mental Health Day in 2018 allows us as a society to have an open, international discussion about conditions that have historically been stigmatised. We now need to see a similar movement based on addiction.
We need to firmly establish that addiction is an illness and dispel the idea that sheer willpower alone can overcome it. Mental health services certainly need improvement, but so do addiction treatment programmes; yet they are so often left out of governmental policy reforms and have seen sharp cuts in recent years.
Mental health awareness has been on the rise over the past decade and is finally lodged in the public’s consciousness. Now though, there needs to be an equally large exposure extended towards addiction. We’ve begun to properly treat mental health conditions because the discussions around them have developed so much.
Sometimes though, talking about the problem isn’t enough. If you, or a loved one, is suffering from an addiction, Port of Call can be the first step towards the help you need. Whether it’s rehab, counselling or just figuring out the right options for you, we’re here to help. Get in touch with us via email or call our free helping on 08000029010.