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One of the biggest things preventing people from getting the help they need is the pervasiveness of the stigmas still surrounding mental health and addiction. These stigmas cause us to fear being judged and shunned, so we isolate ourselves and struggle with our challenges alone, in silence. What are some of these stigmas, and how can we start to look at them differently in order to be more inclusive and compassionate of those who are struggling?

One common misconception about those living with addictions and mental health issues is that we are weak, lazy, unmotivated people who are only in the positions we’re in because we’ve allowed them or brought them upon ourselves. Those who perpetuate this stigma often aren’t aware of all the various causes of our struggles – our traumatic experiences, genetic factors, family patterns, subconscious programming, etc. When we start to see these issues as manifestations of pain, we can develop more compassion for those who are struggling with them. We can try to see people the way we would see our loved ones if they were suffering. Most likely we would want to understand why and how they developed these issues, rather than judging or blaming them.

Another stigma surround addiction and mental health is the way we criminalize and shun people for the behaviors associated with their issues. Many of the crimes committed by people struggling with addictions and mental health issues are committed because of those issues. Rather than seeing the direct correlations and causality, we decide people are bad, criminal, unfit for society, deserving of punishment and of being separated from society and denied their basic freedoms. We’ve systemically removed our compassion and empathy entirely when we perpetuate this stigma, and we do those who are suffering a huge disservice by denying them the help and support they need.

Another debilitating stigma is the belief that addicts and those with mental health issues can’t recover well enough to contribute to their communities in meaningful, productive ways. Everyone has something to offer, something to teach, a unique gift with which to bless the world, a way to make the world a better, more beautiful place. When we see those with addiction and mental health challenges as lesser than “normal” people, we are denying them opportunities to become self-fulfilled, engaging, contributing members of their communities, and we are denying all of us the chance to learn and benefit from their talents and experiences.

Riverside is a safe space, free from judgment. Many of us are in recovery ourselves. Call (800) 871-5440.