• Theresa Anthony

Shattering the Stigma Around Addiction and Mental Illness

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

stop the stigma around addiction and mental illness

By Theresa Anthony, author, My 13th Station

Wouldn’t life be peachy if everything went according to plan? Where the only topics discussed with friends, coworkers, casual acquaintances, and family members revolved around the weather, the movie you just saw, or a favorite recipe. Nirvana. Utopia. Heaven on earth. We go about our lives with a perpetual smile on our faces, oblivious to any sorrows or sickness or struggles that might be lingering at the outer edges of our personal realities. With invisible blinders on, we stay focused only on our own lives, its pleasures and purpose consuming our consciousness.

Guess what folks…that ain’t reality. In real life—as in open-your-eyes-and-look-around—pain is not relegated to the fringes. The walking wounded populate your daily lives, individuals suffering intense emotional pain because their teen or adult child is battling a monster. Look around you the next time you are stuck in a line at the post office, the grocery store, the bank. See the pain in their eyes, their slumped demeanor. Witness their despair.

These are the parents of kids who struggle with a mental health disorder, like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, suffering right along with them. These are parents of kids that are battling drug or alcohol addiction, living each day in fear of the next life-destroying consequence of the disease; they become homeless, they lose their job, their get arrested, they lie, cheat, and steal for the next high. As for the parents whose child suffers from both disorders, mental illness and addiction, they live each days in fear of that dreaded phone call.

The sad reality is that no one really wants to discuss that big, giant elephant in the room. Our preference for the superficial banalities that solidify the illusion of a sugary-sweet existence keeps conversations safely on the side of simple pleasantries. What a shame this is! The unspoken stigma that surrounds addiction, mental illness, overdose, and suicide effectively cements these important topics to the outside edges of life where they will continue to fester and grow.

The stigma must be obliterated if we as a society are to work toward finding real answers to the growing addiction, mental illness, suicide rates, and a general loss of faith. These topics should not be relegated to hushed tones spoken in dark corners. On the contrary, these are the most important topics we should be discussing! These are life-and-death issues that are stealing our children from us, one after the other. What is more important, that great new restaurant you discovered last weekend or your child on the brink of suicide?

Come on people, let’s get real. Let us collectively open our eyes and our hearts and express compassion and empathy for our friends and acquaintances that are suffering daily in fear of losing a child. Why not help each other research treatment options, seek out quality sober living resources, help them find outpatient mental health services, suggest an Al-anon meeting, help them navigate their insurance benefits, and mostly, offer heartfelt encouragement. These parents need support. I know this….I was one of them.

Learning how to open up the conversation to discussing painful circumstances isn’t always easy. It may come down to trial and error, but just try. If you know of a friend who is struggling with an addicted or troubled child, even just sending a text - “How are things going? How is [name of child]? Do you want to talk?”- can offer an opportunity to provide much needed support. Even better if you, too, have been through this struggle with a child—let them know you are there for them to offer information, guidance, and help based on your own experience.

Parents of addicted and/or mentally troubled kids are often mired in feelings of defeat, exhaustion, and utter panic. They will do their best to blend in to the rest of society, pasting a fake smile on their faces and chatting about the weather. But look into their eyes to see the worry and pain, and realize how alone these parents feel. Just ask them, "is everything all right?"

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