Mental Health and Substance Use often have a stigma attached. People who have a diagnosis sometimes don’t want to get treatment because people think they are “crazy.” Stigma is a reason these issues are not discussed when things like shootings happen. But why not talk about it?
In March of 2020, the entire US went into quarantine. We were told “don’t go out except for essential services,” or “don’t go to the store as a family, only send one person.” But what did this do to us? The isolation started taking a toll on everyone from the beginning. Mental health and substance use facilities transitioned to virtual meetings to continue supporting people. But the isolation took away the face-to-face support that everyone needed. Interactions became sterile and lost their feeling. The consequences of being alone are being felt by everyone.
Isolation changed our world. It took away human contact, which we crave when we are down or feeling bad. For people in substance use recovery, it takes away a vital support that helps them avoid their substance of choice. The isolation also causes hopelessness. Watching people die and get sick in growing numbers made us feel like this would never end. For people with mental health and substance use issues it reinforced their feelings of dread and hopelessness. This led to an increase in suicides, relapse, and more. It is not clear the total increase in suicides in 2020, and it will take time to measure the total impact. A quick look at the news and you see the number of overdoses increasing.
Everyone is afraid to ask for help. We are told not to ignore things like signs of a heart attack or other physical issues. But no one is saying, “let’s talk about signs of depression because you can’t see the loved ones who support you.” Or “let’s talk about how to avoid triggers and not call your dealer.” The other issue that is not being talked about is how, in the last year more potent and potentially fatal substances are being mixed. People believe they are taking marijuana and get fentanyl, a powerful opioid. Things are scary for everyone, but we must start the conversation.
Now is the time to rebuild support systems. Instead, news programs and politicians focus on shock issues like gun control and gun rights. Let’s talk about the issues that help prevent people from using guns to express themselves. Mass shooters often have substance use problems, abuse alcohol, struggle with society, and guns become a powerful tool against themselves and others. Therapists and social workers can help people deal with those issues.
After a year of isolation, it’s time to focus on mental health again. And not just for a little while, permanently. Everyone needs it but nobody wants to talk about it, and we must. Don’t let there be a stigma. Ask your family, friends, and co-workers how they are and mean it.
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