To reduce the stigmas associated with mental health conditions, we can reflect on how we approach others and do so with compassion. One way we can do this is by separating the person from their condition by using “people first” language. This entails making statements like “they live with bipolar disorder” rather than “they are bipolar.” We also can avoid making assumptions about the other person’s experiences, such as saying that they “suffer from mental illness,” as it assumes that the person is in a constant state of distress that may be inaccurate. In fact, many with mental health conditions experience symptoms that come and go.
It is the case that some of those who have difficulties coping with their mental health condition turn to self-medicating with alcohol, prescription, or street drugs. Those who are misusing substances face many barriers, as they may be harsh consequences from the medical community, criminal justice systems, and support networks after relapsing. Repercussions can create a cycle of instability, when those experiencing addition may face housing precarity and homelessness.
It is time that we end associated stigmas with mental health conditions and substance misuse, as we do with other medical conditions. Social stigmas that serve to alienate others create real harm. Statistics demonstrate that those with mental health conditions and substance use disorder are much more likely to be harmed than to cause it, because others may prey on the situation to their advantage. People may draw conclusions that a victim deserves what happened to them due to their lifestyle and “poor choices” they made. This is called victim blaming. No one deserves to be abused regardless of other’s perceptions of what it means to make “good decisions.” Advocates at Turning Points support victim-survivors where they are in their lives and actively support them without judgement. As a community, we can do our part to do the same.
OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN), serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and sex trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move toward living with respect, healing, and hope that we all deserve. We can be reached 24/7 on our crisis and support line at 1.800.639.3130. Between 9-4 Monday-Friday, we are available on our chatline at www.turningpointsnetwork.org or by text at 603.506.6553.