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The Importance of World Mental Health Day for the Addiction Community

It’s been a tough time for many people – the COVID-19 pandemic has continued well into 2021 and the world is grappling with a constantly changing “normal life” as we head into a new season and new year. As a disease that thrives on inconsistency, drug and alcohol addiction has had its moments – with an increase in overdose deaths, and a growing number of people struggling with addiction, mental health has never been more important than it is right now.

October 10, 2021 is World Mental Health Day, calling for awareness and policy changes to increase efforts surrounding mental health care and treatment. Every year, the World Health Organization brings nations together to discuss and plan for scaling up quality mental health services and how to best make an impact on those people struggling with serious illnesses every day. As services for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders have been significantly disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s World Mental Health Day serves as an inspiring reminder that mental health care is for everybody, and it is needed everywhere.

The Hard Facts on Mental Health

More often than not, our team of medical and behavioral health professionals find that people who are struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction also suffer from mental illness. Referred to as co-occurring disorders, the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that 50% of individuals are affected by both addiction and mental illness.

So, what typically comes first? Substance misuse and mental health disorders are closely linked, one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Alcohol and drugs are often used as an unhealthy coping mechanism or used by those who may have severe depression and anxiety. As a result, self-medication may worsen symptoms and progression of the illness for the individual.

Alcohol and drug use can increase the underlying risk for mental disorders as well, especially if the individual has a genetic link to addiction and mental illness. For example, the Food and Drug Administration reports that misusing benzodiazepines can exacerbate cases of pre-existing depression and increase suicidal thoughts and feelings. Opioid misuse and heavy cannabis use have been linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia as well.

With 8.5 million Americans currently battling a drug and/or alcohol addiction combined with mental illness (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), their illness is often trivialized or deemed a moral failing. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health published a study in 2017 on Neuroethics, stating that addiction is not a moral failing. Unfortunately, this type of thinking creates barriers to public understanding based on scientific information.

Hope is Here

The world has made great strides in de-stigmatizing mental illness, but we still have a long way to go, especially for those struggling with addiction. Thankfully, there is an increasing awareness that substance use disorder is a disease, and a growing appreciation for the resources available in our communities to help address addiction.

Even as awareness is raised across the nation, barriers still exist that still need to be addressed. From a lack of insurance and transportation issues to family and environmental support, organizations like Spectrum Health Systems are working to increase access to care and education across all our communities.

For more information about World Mental Health Day, visit the World Health Organization website.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Spectrum Health Systems has beds available today. Call 1-877-MyRehab and speak to an admissions counselor.

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