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Nearly half of people who have a serious psychiatric illness also have a co-occurring substance use disorder, according to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In 2021, nearly 19.4 million had both a substance use disorder and mental health condition such as depression, acute anxiety, or bipolar disorder. When aiming to manage mental health and wellbeing successfully, medical alert tags are a great way to inform medical professionals and bystanders of a condition during an emergency. With a variety of discreet options, those in recovery who experience a mental health condition can benefit from a medical alert ID tag in more ways than one.

The application of medical ID tags

Medical ID tags are used to communicate important information to medical professionals and bystanders when the wearer is unable to themselves. These are often in the form of dog tags, bracelets, etc., and are typically used to communicate a severe allergy or serious medical condition. They can also be used to communicate mental health conditions as well, whether it be schizophrenia, anxiety and panic attacks, bipolar disorder, or another mental health issue, which makes them an effective and discreet way to inform others. In an emergency, others can be made aware of the condition and gain valuable insight to better help that person.

The uses of a medical ID tag are extensive. For example, an individual with bipolar disorder can experience manic and depressive episodes that may involve psychosis (hearing voices or having delusions). When out in public, a medical ID tag can better inform bystanders and medical professionals of an individual’s condition and ensure that the individual receives proper help. Furthermore, a medical ID tag with an emergency contact will guarantee that the right person is made aware of what is going on. Similarly, someone who experiences extreme anxiety can get the help they need should they experience a panic attack when out in public.

To expand on the value of medical bracelets for mental health, one 2019 CBC article  discusses a pilot project that was launched to expand MedicAlert (a service that gives authorities access to medical information) to youth in B.C. with mental illnesses. Typically a bracelet, the accessory has an identification number, which is linked with medical history and notes the patient submits beforehand. “Psychiatric issues often land people in crisis and, when they’re not at their best, it’s really hard for them to communicate what they need or what’s going to be helpful,” explains Keli Anderson, CEO of the charity Family Smart. According to CBC, the tags can include information regarding the condition of the wearer, as well as helpful details such as: “I have anxiety and panic attacks. Please speak to me in a calm voice.”

For those in recovery from addiction to substances, a medical ID can prove useful for a few different reasons. According to the MedicAlert Foundation, it’s often recommended to have an emergency plan in place to manage the life-threatening complications of substance abuse disorders. In an emergency situation, a medical professional or bystander can understand what rescue medications may be needed (such as Narcan for potential overdose). Even though an individual is in recovery, a medical ID can become a life-saving tool that can inform others of a history of substance abuse in addition to mental health conditions. Due to the sensitive information that such medical IDs may display, however, choosing a discreet option can be an avenue to privacy.

Exploring discreet options

Medical ID tags are available in many different styles, which can make them especially discreet. Jewelry is just one common example, with bracelets being a popular choice among many. To maintain privacy, medical information engraved on the inside of a bracelet can be one avenue worth exploring. Additionally, the engraving of a simple medical symbol on the front can help let others know that it is a medical ID bracelet. However, a bracelet isn’t the only option out there.

A dog tag, which can be worn on a chain around the neck, is another option to consider. Medical alert dog tags can be particularly beneficial for those who wish to be discreet, as they can be worn underneath the clothing. Dog tags have long been a valuable form of identification — in the military, the origins of dog tags have roots in the Civil War though they weren’t officially used until 1899. Dog tags were primarily used as a way to identify fallen soldiers or those who were severely injured on the battlefield. Red dog tags have been colored to alert that the wearer has an underlying medical condition (such as an allergy).

Medical alert bracelets may appear to be reserved for those with medical conditions or disabilities. However, it’s imperative to realize the value that they hold for those with mental health conditions too. For those in recovery, a medical ID can inform others of a history of substance abuse as well, bringing peace of mind that you’ll receive the right care in an emergency situation.


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