No one likes a label that could potentially hinder their overall quality of life, especially within their career and relationships.
Alcohol and substance misuse have among some of the highest stigma today, with labels such as “alcoholic”, “junkie”, and “addict.” Even individuals who seek treatment for mental health concerns become branded as “one of those people.”
According to the CDC, substance overdoses and suicide are the top two leading causes of death among Americans under 50 years old. But with perceptions like that, individuals who need help are less likely to seek it and fatality numbers will continue to climb.
What can we do to help shatter social stigma surrounding alcohol and substance misuse and mental health? The LEAST we can do is:
- Listen without judgement. Those battling substance misuse or mental health crises are already used to getting the cold shoulder--don’t give another one.
- Educate yourself. Alcohol and substance misuse, and unstable mental health are not a choice--they are valid medical concerns that can be treated.
- Advocate for substance misuse and mental health treatment. Be a voice for those who feel they can’t use theirs.
- Support your friends and loved ones as they navigate through recovery. Whether it be changing up routine, trying new things, or making major life decisions, they need your encouragement and support.
- Talk about your own feelings and struggles. These topics are no longer taboo and the more we talk about them openly, the more they become accepted in everyday norms and values.
Additionally, we can reassure our friends and battle buddies. Many Soldiers may fear that getting help for an alcohol problem will harm their career. They may not be aware of the Voluntary Care pathway that encourages Soldiers to get care before they have a serious alcohol-related incident. Taking the first step is often the hardest. By escorting and offering to go with a buddy or subordinate to Behavioral Health for care may help them take that first step.
Just because you don’t physically see a struggle, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Listen, educate, advocate, support, and talk--it’s the least you can do to shatter social stigma.