September is “Recovery Month”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recognizes September as “Recovery Month”. We at NAMI Lexington wholeheartedly support the recovery ethos – a way of thinking and acting that promotes the values of recovery for individuals with behavioral health disorders. In honor of Recovery Month, we will be posting articles and stories of topical interest to all our social media accounts in order to share and reinforce our vision and belief; the belief that anyone can recover on their own terms, and with appropriate support live self-directed lives that have meaning and purpose to them as individuals, family members, and as members of their broader communities. Most importantly, we all should strive to see the person – not the illness.

We will also be highlighting some of our programs as we journey through the month. Please feel free to share any of the articles on your own social media, as we also firmly believe in the values of community and mutual respect for one another.

We would love to see you all at our annual NAMIWalks event at Masterson Station Park on October 8th to round off the end of National Mental Illness Awareness Week!

What’s in a word? Some words in our everyday lexicon hold a deeper, inexplicable meaning beyond their dictionary definition and become embedded in the way we think, feel, and act. “Stigma” is such a word that evokes a certain reaction when it is used. In general, it means a mark or a sign, usually of disapproval. In the context of mental illness or addiction, “stigma” can manifest itself in many ways.

Exter­nal­ly, those with men­tal or sub­stance use dis­or­ders often expe­ri­ence stereo­typ­ing, neg­a­tive atti­tudes, and dis­crim­i­na­tion from the peo­ple around them, includ­ing their com­mu­ni­ties, fam­i­lies, and friends. Inter­nal­ly, they may start to believe these stereo­types and neg­a­tive atti­tudes about them­selves, harm­ing their self-esteem and their chance for recov­ery.

The Nation­al Sur­vey on Drug Use and Health cites the cost of care as the num­ber one rea­son for not receiv­ing men­tal health ser­vices. How­ev­er, there are oth­er rea­sons, such as neg­a­tive pub­lic opin­ion, a neg­a­tive effect on the job, being con­cerned about con­fi­den­tial­i­ty, and not want­i­ng oth­ers to find out.1 These are social con­cerns that, when com­bined, become the sec­ond most impor­tant rea­son why peo­ple who need help are reluc­tant to seek it.

In addi­tion, peo­ple liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness or addic­tion often have to con­tend with “struc­tur­al stig­ma,” where poli­cies set by pri­vate and pub­lic orga­ni­za­tions — employ­ers or land­lords, for exam­ple — can inten­tion­al­ly or unin­ten­tion­al­ly lim­it their oppor­tu­ni­ties for jobs and hous­ing. With regard to health care sys­tems, struc­tur­al stig­ma could also be why access to behav­ioral health care is so lim­it­ed and under­fund­ed.

How­ev­er, there is a prob­lem with the word “stigma”—using it tends to cre­ate or even rein­force dis­crim­i­na­tion, whether con­scious­ly or sub­con­scious­ly. Using the term rein­forces the con­cept of the “oth­er” – that peo­ple with behav­ioral health con­di­tions are some­how dif­fer­ent from the rest of us. This is impor­tant as social dis­tance mea­sures are increas­ing. Words like “dis­crim­i­na­tion” and “prej­u­dice” are bet­ter choic­es to describe the inap­pro­pri­ate actions of those who shun or demean peo­ple who expe­ri­ence men­tal ill­ness or addic­tion.

Over the last few years, we have attempt­ed to move the health care field toward strate­gies that change behav­iors as well as atti­tudes in order to accom­plish more direct and imme­di­ate progress. Using the word “stig­ma” puts the bur­den on the ill­ness and those who expe­ri­ence it rather than on all of us who need to work to under­stand these health con­di­tions, and pro­mote accep­tance and inclu­sion of those who expe­ri­ence them. Con­se­quent­ly, SAMHSA avoids using the word stig­ma as it relates to men­tal or sub­stance use dis­or­ders, as much as pos­si­ble.

Words mat­ter. Actions also mat­ter. If we are to over­come the prej­u­dice against those with men­tal and sub­stance use dis­or­ders and make progress on pre­ven­tion, treat­ment, and recov­ery, we need a lan­guage of action and com­mit­ment. A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of all of us or mem­bers of our fam­i­lies will meet the cri­te­ria for one of these dis­or­ders at some point in our lives. Social accep­tance and com­mu­ni­ty sup­port can make a dif­fer­ence in out­comes for all of us, espe­cial­ly those who have expe­ri­enced or are liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness or addic­tion.


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