Let’s stop the shame of mental health and addiction

Photo by Tracy Wright

He’s a veteran of war. His last tour was in Afghanistan.

Today, Dan suffers from PTSD as a result of time served with the Canadian Forces.

As a result, he often turns to cocaine to forget.

“[It] clears my head, affects me, and clears my mind,” he says. “[It’s] very calming.”

But for Dan, there’s a stigma having both a mental illness and an addiction.

He’s not alone.

According to evidencenetwork.ca, a national health website, approximately one in five Canadians have a mental illness or addiction each year and about half will experience one in their lifetime.

But many people don’t want to talk about it.

A survey conducted by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in 2008 showed about half of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness. Another survey in 2016 found 40 per cent of respondents said they experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought help.

Dualdiagnois.org says self-medication is the most common issue connecting mental illness and substance abuse. It says patients medicate to deal with the mental health symptoms they find disruptive. It is sometime used as a coping mechanism.

For Dan, recreational drugs work better than prescription drugs for PTSD.

“The difference between medication and the drugs, the drugs works right away, he says “[I’m] not sure if meds work or not I just take them.”

Tasha, a single mom of two in Toronto was diagnosed about 20 years ago with depression with traits of borderline personality disorder and PTSD due to sexual abuse in her childhood.

Her most recent diagnosis is for anxiety panic disorder. She relapsed within the last year, triggered by a miscarriage.

She also is on prescribed medicine for depression, but finds the medication does not work. She uses cannabis oil instead to keep her calm and have a good night sleep. “The medication is very strong,” she says adding she feels off balance and easily agitated with her prescription. With the cannabis oil, she says she’s fully functional and more relaxed.

She believes she has it under control. Her concern is that when marijuana becomes legal the quality may not be the same.

Heather Bickle, an outreach worker from the Coaching centre at Durham College says there is a dual stigmatism towards mental health and substance abuse.

She says we don’t have the same stigma around alcohol, but when talking about heroin injection there is a lot of stigma.

“Remove the type of substance that a person is using and we’ll see a lot of commonalties as to why the person is using, she says.

There are a variety of programs with different needs for people who need help.

Students can receive help from Pinewood Centre in Oshawa or John Howard Society for harm reduction.

With the appropriate treatment and support, many people with mental illness and addiction will recover, according to CAMH.