Mental health professionals have long recognized that the stigmatization of people with addictions and mental disorders actually worsens their condition. They are already in a fragile mental and emotional state trying to make sense of the world, but when stigmatization is piled on top of that in the form of judgmental words or ignorant opinions, they often do not have the clarity to process these opinions properly. Sensitivity and insecurity are marked traits of people with addictions and mental disorders. Stigmatization is taken to heart by people battling these conditions, and are interpreted as an affirmation of their fears and insecurities.
The reversal of this ugly scenario is, of course, educating the public on how to understand and treat people with addiction and mental disorder. Awareness needs to develop of what these conditions are and are not. They are considered a mental health disease, and take the same amount of time and energy to recover from as do medical diseases. They are chemical in nature and are caused in part by a person’s genetics and biochemistry, not their behavior and their decision making alone. They are not an excuse, a crutch or a character flaw and they should not be treated like something that is easily remedied. They are highly complex and require professional examination.
Along with a more compassionate, understanding cultural stance on these matters, the other thing that must change is the availability of treatment for addiction and mental disorders. Treatment resources exist, but a majority of people who need them are not accessing them. This is for several reasons. First of all, many people simply do not know that they are available, or know so little about them that they are intimidated by them. Secondly, many people simply cannot afford them due to inadequate health care coverage. This is only beginning to change thanks to recent legislation, but there is still a long way to go before everyone has access to the mental health treatment they need.