Mental illness and substance abuse touch every demographic of society, but there are strong links between poverty, mental illness and harmful substance abuse. Addicted people often fluctuate between manic highs and epic lows and in order to mask these emotions, many will continue using and abusing drugs and alcohol in desperation. Anxiety, shame, guilt, low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness, all go together with substance abuse and as a result, it can be hard to determine which symptoms come from a mental health issue and which stems from substance abuse.

 

There are things a person should know about mental illness and substance abuse disorders and these include the following:

·         You aren’t alone: Mental illness is a bigger problem than most people realize. The National Institute of Mental Health reports in 2014, there were 43.6 million adults suffering from some type of mental illness. This figure doesn’t include people dealing with substance abuse issues, which causes the number to skyrocket even higher.
·         Early intervention is important: Discovering and interrupting mental illness at the earliest age possible is crucial to a person’s future. The Government Accountability Office reports parents who ensure their child has greater access to mental health treatments and child welfare services have a better chance at having a healthy future.
·         Many illegal street drugs mimic the effects of psychiatric medications: It’s important to understand why people engage in drug and alcohol abuse and why they continue to use them, even when faced with all the negativity. Many addicts and alcoholics will self-medicate their mental illness symptoms in a bid to make themselves feel better, but this is dangerous and doesn’t help.
·         Inability to access effective treatment: Many people dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues have little or no access to treatment resources either due to a lack of programs in the area that they live or because funding has been cut and there are no options available. Today, regions faced with the highest overdose rates still have very limited, if any, access to effective care and treatment. In other areas where these programs exist, the costs can be exorbitant and people simply can’t afford it.
·         The correctional system doesn’t help addicts or the mentally ill: The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 55% of state, 44% of federal and 64% of jail inmates meet the criteria for having a mental illness. However, less than half of these institutions offer any type of treatment. Our jail system is nothing more than a warehouse for addicts and people with mental illness and there is no solution available through the way the system is currently run.
·         Poverty, abuse and social isolation: Mental illness and substance abuse touches every demographic of society, but there are definite and undeniable links between poverty, mental illness and harmful substance abuse. People in these types of populations are more likely to end up arrested and jailed due to drug or alcohol use, lack access to treatment when needed and fall into a vicious cycle of repeated substance abuse and it lasts from generation to generation.
·         How we speak to children about mental illness and substance abuse: Words can cause lasting harm and damage someone into the future, this is especially true for those who are marginalized by society. Calling someone a derogatory name, even when we don’t mean it to be that way, can result in emotional scarring which a person may carry throughout their life. The words we use to refer to people with mental illness and substance abuse issues can make them feel horrible about themselves and it may confirm the worthlessness they are feeling. It’s important to remember that words have power and to be mindful of using words that empower and lift people up, rather than tear them down.
What can be done to ensure people with mental health and substance abuse issues receive help? Perhaps, how we view people with addiction and mental illness needs to change and people should realize these individuals are still people with feelings and emotions. The fate of millions of people rests on how we face the challenge of helping those with mental health and substance abuse issues and how they are perceived in society can begin with us changing how we relate and speak to them.