Suffering from the symptoms of an addiction or mental health disorder can be debilitating. When you add the negative effects of stigma, this experience can become even more challenging.
Stigma, in behavioral health, involves negative attitudes and beliefs about mental illnesses and addictions. These harmful attitudes can foster fear, distrust, and blame toward people who suffer from behavioral health conditions, which often leads to discrimination and social exclusion.
Stigma can also lead to discrimination at the institutional and policy levels: People who have mental health disorders and addictions may receive fewer opportunities in areas like housing and employment as well as insufficient access to lifesaving behavioral health services. People who have behavioral health disorders can also struggle with self-stigma, which may affect their self-esteem and prevent them from seeking treatment.
For people who are struggling with an addiction and a mental health disorder at the same time, known as a dual diagnosis, the effects of stigma may be different than for people who are suffering from an addiction or a mental illness alone. Understanding how stigma affects people who have a dual diagnosis may be an important step toward reducing treatment barriers and improving treatment outcomes.
Understanding Dual Diagnosis
People who struggle with a dual diagnosis can develop either disorder type first. Additionally, struggling with a mental illness can increase someone’s risk for developing an addiction, while suffering from an addiction can make someone more vulnerable to developing symptoms of a mental health concern.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2020, 17 million U.S. adults (6.7%) had both a mental illness and a substance use disorder. However, despite the prevalence of these co-occurring concerns, there is still a lot to learn about the specific stigma associated with having a dual diagnosis.
One thing that is clear is that people who have addictions can experience stigma differently than people who have mental illnesses. Studies suggest that people who have addictions may face more negative attitudes than people who have mental health conditions, including being viewed as more dangerous and at fault for the disorders they are suffering from.
Addressing Stigma in Dual Diagnosis Treatment
To support people who are struggling with a dual diagnosis, it’s important to address stigma at each level where it exists and could harm someone’s self-esteem, treatment seeking, and recovery journey.
The impacts of stigma can be highly personal, with age, race, gender, and socioeconomic circumstances possibly playing a role in someone’s experience. So, it’s important for behavioral healthcare providers to offer personalized care that considers the unique effects of stigma on the individual.
Stigmatizing beliefs can also exist among healthcare providers, which can negatively affect the treatment patients receive. The challenges of finding supportive care may be worse for people who have a dual diagnosis because they might also be struggling to access high-quality integrated treatment that can address addictions and mental illnesses simultaneously.
Healthcare providers can work proactively with their employees to increase education and combat negative or disempowering beliefs that may affect patient care. They can also work to increase access to specialized dual diagnosis treatment and support services. A review in the Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry found that people who have a dual diagnosis sometimes receive incomplete care, including a partial diagnosis and insufficient follow-up treatment for the co-occurring mental health conditions they are suffering from.
Employers can also play a role in addressing stigma. McKinsey & Company found that 37% of U.S. employees who have a behavioral health condition would avoid treatment to prevent people from finding out about the mental illness they were struggling with, while 52% would avoid treatment to prevent people from discovering that they had a substance use disorder.
Fighting Stigma Through Education
People who are struggling with both an addiction and a mental health concern may experience stigma in different ways than people who are facing either disorder type on its own. Efforts to combat the stigma associated with a dual diagnosis should include research that is dedicated to understanding the unique impacts of having co-occurring mental health and addiction concerns, as well as ongoing education for healthcare providers and the public.
Education can help increase awareness about effective treatments for people who are struggling with a dual diagnosis. Depending on a person’s unique needs, these treatments could include evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group interventions such as group therapy and support groups, and psychoeducation approaches that can help patients better understand co-occurring disorder recovery.
Using empowering, compassionate language to discuss behavioral health disorders is also important. This language should recognize that people who have addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders are capable, valuable, and deserving of support, and with personalized, stigma-free treatment, they can take steps toward lasting recovery.
About Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab
Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab in Calistoga, California, is a premier addiction treatment center for adults age 18 and older. We offer a range of services for people who are struggling with addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders, including detox, residential treatment, medication-assisted treatment, and an extended care program. At Duffy’s, each guest works with a compassionate team of experts and follows an individualized treatment plan designed just for them. Our goal is to provide excellent care and meaningful support throughout your recovery experience. For more information, please visit www.duffysrehab.com.