In today's society, there is often a lack of compassion, a perpetuation of negative stereotypes, and even discrimination against those suffering from mental illness and addiction. Much of this stigma is rooted in a limited understanding of these illnesses. An open discussion is the only way that society as a whole can begin to comprehend the legitimacy of mental illness and addiction as diseases. Not only are people suffering from psychiatric and substance use disorders every day but they are often expected to function like everyone else despite their serious condition. Dr. Daniel Bober is a board-certified psychiatrist in Hollywood, FL, who has made it his mission to educate others about the widespread effects of addiction and mental illness stigma.
Mental illness affects a substantial percentage of the population in the U.S.
Defining Mental Illness & Addiction
According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illness is defined as health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion, or behavior, or a combination of the three. These conditions can be associated with distress as well as problems functioning in social, work, or family activities1. Common mental health disorders include:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Social Anxiety
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), defines substance use disorders as conditions that occur when the recurrent use of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home2. These dependencies may include:
Causes of These Conditions
Understanding the causes of mental illness and addiction is key to helping people see these conditions as valid health problems. Mental health disorders are typically developed due to a combination of psychosocial, genetic, and environmental factors such as3:
- Growing up in an urban environment
- Bullying victimization
- Nutritional deficiencies or exposure to toxins
- Ethnic minority status
- Low socio-economic status
- History of childhood abuse or neglect
- Infections during pregnancy
People with a psychiatric or substance use disorder do not develop these conditions by choice but are often predisposed to developing them4.
Substance abuse treatment is necessary for millions of Americans each year.
In the United States alone, one in five adults, or 43.8 million people suffer from mental illness each year5. Globally, one of the largest contributing factors to the disease burden is attributed to those with mental health conditions6. As of 2015, approximately 21.7 million people in the United States were in need of substance abuse treatment7. With so many people affected every year by these conditions, it is imperative that others begin to recognize these illnesses as just that.
The Toll on Society
These conditions affect society as a whole. It is estimated that substance abuse costs the U.S. more than $740 billion per year8. These costs are attributed to related crimes, lost productivity, and health care. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that mental health treatment cost the United States $186 billion9.
Myths About Mental Illness & Addiction
In order to begin erasing this stigma, it is important to debunk myths that create harmful stereotypes, such as:
Myth: Addicts are weak. They can easily stop using drugs if they wanted to.
Fact: While people may make the personal decision to start using drugs, it is not as simple to stop. Once an individual has become addicted to a substance, it is a neurobiological illness. There are changes to the brain that impact various aspects of their thinking including decision-making, behavior control, and more. Often, the desire to continue using can overcome all others, even the desire to live10.
Myth: People with mental illness are violent and dangerous.
Fact: People with mental illness should not be regarded as prone to violence. In a study of crimes committed by people with serious mental disorders, only 7.5 percent were directly related to symptoms of mental illness11. Additionally, they are responsible for only about four percent of gun-related homicides 12. Moreover, alcohol and substance abuse increase the risk of violent crime by as much as seven-fold, even among persons with no history of mental illness13. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence and not the perpetrators.
These and many other widely accepted misconceptions are detrimental to individuals suffering from various types of mental illness and addiction.
Suffering in Silence
Due to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions and addiction, many suffer in silence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 35 to 50 percent of people with mental illness in developed countries do not receive treatment. In developing countries, this estimate rises to 76 to 85 percent6. Of the 21.7 million individuals suffering from addiction in the United States, only 10.8 percent of them sought treatment at a specialty facility7.
An open discussion is the only way that society as a whole can begin to comprehend the legitimacy of mental illness and addiction as diseases.
There are huge portions of our population who are not receiving the medical care they need to manage their condition either because they feel ashamed, are undiagnosed, are in prison, are homeless, or have been neglected14. These various factors can be attributed to the lack of awareness and acceptance in our country and around the globe. Not only are these individuals suffering but their families and relationships are negatively impacted as well.
Diagnosis & Treatment
There are several effective, established, and evidence-based treatment methods for mental health disorders and addiction including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and motivational interviewing, as well as medications.
For addiction patients, in particular, it is important that a comprehensive approach is taken to treatment15 including:
- Peer and family support
- Recovery support services
- Inpatient, outpatient, or residential treatment
Depending on your unique circumstances, certain approaches may be more effective for you. A trained psychiatrist, such as Dr. Bober, can help you determine the best course of action for your needs.
Get Help Now
Lack of insurance or income should not hinder you or a loved one from receiving medical care. There are many resources available including:
- SAMHSA's National Helpline
- This free helpline is always available and assists those suffering from psychiatric or substance abuse disorders to find local treatment facilities and support groups. Services are available in both English and Spanish at any time at 1(800) 662-4357.
- HRSA Health Centers
- Many of these care facilities provide mental health and substance abuse treatment services to patients with no insurance. Cost is determined by what you can afford based on your current income.
- Free Rehab Centers
- This tool can help you find free or low-income rehab centers including government resources, non-profits, and faith-based organizations.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, suicide prevention services are available 24/7 to anyone in need at 1(800) 273-8255. Additionally, the organization can provide resources for those in need.
Changing the Conversation
We all must work together to erase the stigma of mental illness and addiction, not only for moral reasons, but for economic ones as well. We have started the conversation and now it is time to finish it. Those with mental illness and addiction must be viewed in the same manner as those who suffer from other legitimate medical illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.
Years of training and experience have allowed Dr. Bober to develop keen insight into the issues surrounding these conditions. He understands firsthand the effects on those who suffer from mental illness and addiction, as well as on the lives of their families and the communities they live in. Call (954) 994-1115 to learn more about getting treatment and resources that are available to you, whatever your economic circumstances may be.
- Effects of mental illness - American Psychiatric Association
- Definition of substance use disorders - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Development of mental health disorders - National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine
- Predisposition to substance use and mental health disorders - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- 43.8 million people with mental illness each year in the U.S. - National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Mental health and global disease burden - Mental Health Foundation
- 21.7 million people in need of substance abuse treatment in the U.S.- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- 740 billion dollars in the U.S. each year due to substance abuse - National Institute of Drug Abuse
- 186 billion dollars in 2014 for mental health treatment in the U.S. - Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- Effects of addiction - National Institute for Drug Abuse
- Percent of crimes directly related to symptoms of mental illness - Law and Human Behavior
- Mental illness and gun violence - US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
- Alcohol and substance abuse lead to increased risk of violent crime - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Effects of stigma - National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine
- Comprehensive treatment approach - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration