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Stigma: a mark of disgrace

“There are still attitudes within most societies that view symptoms of psychopathology as threatening and uncomfortable, and these attitudes frequently foster stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health problems,” writes Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D., at psychologytoday.com.

There is a relationship between mental health and drug use/abuse, advises drugabuse.com, which further says, “Those who are mentally ill are more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol.”

Part of stigma is fear. Traditionally, people have been afraid of those who have mental health issues because they may become violent, or perhaps they are just “different.” Long ago people with mental health issues were thought to be possessed by demons or other spirits. These days when a doctor makes a diagnosis, a label becomes attached, and that label can become a problem.

People tend to be afraid of those things they cannot understand.

Public stigma is the reaction the general public has to people with mental illness,” advises the National Institutes of Health. The public believes the person is dangerous, incompetent or be weak in character, which raises anger and fear. So people avoid them, refuse to hire them, deny them adequate housing and don’t help them.

But worse, perhaps, is self-stigma, when the person believes he or she is incompetent and can’t work productively. (S)He suffers low self-esteem and doesn’t bother to look for work. Life decisions must be and are made by others who choose what is best for him or her.

Start with a definition for stigma. Stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.” Disgrace is “loss of reputation or respect as the result of a dishonorable action.”

Children are taught in elementary school, “Just say no!” They are given information at their level of understanding for why they should say no to drugs and other risky behaviors. But some of them, when they get a little older, still walk down that path. What aren’t they learning? Have they been taught to consider the consequences before they act on something they have decided to do? Have they forgotten the lessons they were taught?

A couple of other concepts come to mind at this point. The first is compassion. Compassion is “a sympathetic pity or concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Compassion seems to be in short supply these days, but very much needed because everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has consequences. A little sympathy, understanding, and a helpful hand up to a better place is the desire of everyone, isn’t it?

And then there is forgiveness: “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake.” Everyone falls short. And forgiveness benefits not just the receiver, but the giver, too.

While it is true that the first-time drug use is by choice that does not apply after that one time because drugs affect the way the brain works and already the individual may not be able to say no. Everyone is different, and everyone is affected differently. Family Recovery Center’s Laura Martin said nobody starts out deciding, “I’m going to get addicted.”

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded in part by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.)

NOTE: There will be a Fleming House Alumnae and Community Open House at 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at the big yellow house behind McDonald’s. This is a fundraiser event. See what a little love has done.

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