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Shattering the Stigma Around Addiction and Mental Illness

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.

You know the drill... 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, most of our focus is on our own lives, its pleasures and purpose pretty much demanding our attention.

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. They might be the parent of a kid who struggles with a mental health disorder, like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, and who are suffering right along with them.

They could be the parent of a kid battling drug or alcohol addiction. These parents live each day in fear of the next life-destroying consequence their child might experience because of the disease. Will they become homeless, lose their job, get arrested?

As for the parents whose child suffers from both disorders, mental illness plus addiction, they live each day 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. We prefer shallow conversations that reinforce the illusion of a sugary-sweet existence. What a shame this is! The unspoken stigma that surrounds addiction, mental illness, overdose, and suicide continues unabated. By not talking about them, we only cement these important topics to the outside edges of life, allowing the problems to fester and grow.

The stigma must be removed 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 among our young people. These topics should not be relegated to hushed tones spoken in dark corners.

On the contrary, these are actually 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 being on the brink of suicide?

Let's collectively open our hearts and be brave enough to 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, to offer heartfelt encouragement. These parents need support. I know this firsthand….I was one of them.

Parents of troubled kids struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues 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 alright?" and behold the beautiful, substantive conversation that follows.

My memoir: My 13th Station: A Mother Shares Her Son's Tragic Battle with Depression, Alcoholism, and Demons

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