Most of us either know someone who is battling with a mental health and/or addiction problem—or, at some point in our lives, had to deal with one ourselves. Often, though, we are apt to keep it a secret: the stigma of mental health and addiction disorders is still strong and can affect a person’s life on many levels, both personal and professional.
Even though these disorders are so very common, there are still myths surrounding them. In this post, we hope to debunk some of the most common mental health and addiction myths—with the hope that these facts might shed some light and encourage more people to reach out for help.
Myth 1: Mental health problems don’t affect many people.
In fact, mental health disorders are prevalent. In 2014, 1 of every 5 adults in America dealt with a mental health problem while 1 in every 25 of us were living with a serious condition like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Myth 2: Children and young adults don’t experience mental health disorders.
In fact, many children and young adults do have problems. One in 10 young people in 2014 went through a period of major depression. In children, telltale signs point to what can later turn into mental health or substance use disorders. In fact, it is in childhood that many of these disorders take root: statistics say that half of all mental health disorders first present symptoms before a child’s 14th birthday, and a whopping three-fourths of mental health problems begin before the age of 24.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), earliest onset disorders like lifetime anxiety start at around 6 years old. Some disorders, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder emerge in childhood, while others, like schizophrenia and psychotic disorders emerge later in life, usually in early adulthood.
Myth 3: Mental health disorders cause substance use disorders.
In fact, the relationship between the two is more complicated than one causing the other. There is interplay of genetic, experiential, and social factors that contribute to their development.
We know that mental health and addiction disorders commonly occur together. This is called co-morbidity, or dual diagnosis. According to a 2014 SAMHSA survey, about 7.9 million adults had co-occurring disorders in 2014. Multiple studies show that people with mental illness are roughly twice as likely to develop a substance abuse problem, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says.
Studies show psychological stress will often lead to people using substances to self-medicate. However, many factors can lead to mental health problems not just substance use, including genetics or brain chemistry, experiencing trauma in one’s life, and family history of mental problems.
Often overlooked in dual diagnosis is the fact that drug addiction and mental health disorders are intertwined at the level of neurons. While the desire to self-medicate an untreated mental health problem can and does give way to drug addiction, drug addiction itself is considered a mental illness that involves some of the same neurological pathways that are affected by mental health disorders. According to a recent NIDA study, while people with severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder have a higher risk for substance use, the protective factors that typically guard against high rates of substance use actually do not exist in the case of severe mental illness. “Drug use impacts many of the same brain circuits that are disrupted in severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia,” NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow says. “While we cannot always prove a connection or causality, we do know that certain mental disorders are risk factors for subsequent substance use disorders, and vice versa.”
Myth 4: People with mental health and substance problems can’t be treated.
The fact is that most people suffering from either one or both do not seek treatment. Statistics from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that of the 8.4 million US adults living with dual diagnosis, only about 8 percent got treatment for both conditions, and almost 54 percent received no treatment at all.
Fortunately, it has become easier and more affordable for people with drug addiction and mental health disorders to get treatment. After years of efforts to turn around US drug policy—one that has essentially refused to treat addiction as a medical disorder—Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008. The law requires insurance companies to cover mental health and addiction treatment the same as any physical illness. It went into effect in 2014. In Florida, thanks to the merging of two similar laws earlier this year, people suffering from co-occurring disorders have the opportunity to get help for either or both diseases without the fear of being incarcerated.
Myth 5: People with mental health and substance problems can’t recover.
In fact, with the right medication, therapy, and support system, many people with dual diagnosis can fully recover. You can help yourself or your loved one by simply reaching out—either for help or to let them know that help is available.
Cornerstone Recovery Center is one of only a handful of South Florida addiction treatment centers that offer co-occurring services. At Cornerstone, we understand the importance of treating both disorders at the same time—and under careful guidance of a highly qualified medical staff. We understand the shame and stigma of these disorders that discourage you from getting help, so we make it safe and easy to seek treatment at our drug rehab center. You are not alone. If you or a loved one needs help for a primary mental health disorder, please contact our admissions counselor online or call 1-888-711-0354 today. All communications with our staff are confidential.