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The Stigmas of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Stigmas often embrace both discriminating behaviors and prejudicial attitudes towards individuals with mental health problems and substance abuse issues (Clark, Welch, Berry, Collentine, Collins, Lebron, & Shearer, 2013). The social effects of stigmas can include lack of social supports, poorer subjective quality of life, low self-esteem, and exclusion. Stigmas can lead to obvious and direct discrimination or even unintentional avoidance due to others believing that the individual is unstable, violent, or dangerous (Clark, Welch, Berry, Collentine, Collins, Lebron, & Shearer, 2013). Stigmas can lead to individuals feeling ashamed for something that is out of their control, and worst of all can prevent these individuals from seeking the help they need. Stigmas are often derived out of fear, misunderstanding, misinformation, or lack of information.

Throughout time, people with mental health problems have been known to be treated differently, suffered exclusion, and even at times brutalized. These types of treatment typically come from misguided views that people suffering from mental health issues are often more violent or unpredictable than those without such problems; however, none of these beliefs have any basis in fact. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (n.d.), “An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” (para. 2). In an effort to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses, California’s voters approved the Mental Health Services Act in 2004 (Clark, Welch, Berry, Collentine, Collins, Lebron, & Shearer, 2013). The law funds a comprehensive statewide prevention initiative that places stigma and discrimination reduction at its center. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) (n.d.), “The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) is a federal law that prevents group health plans and health insurance issuers that provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits from imposing less favorable benefit limitations on those benefits than on medical/surgical benefits” (para. 1).

As an individual working in the human services field, it is my job to ensure that individuals receive the treatment that they need by ensuring they have access to treatment. Often, an individual suffering from addiction or mental illness is less likely to enroll in treatment if they feel they are being looked down on for seeking help. The more the public knows about mental illness and substance abuse, the less likely they are to fear or form negative attitudes towards those who are “different” and require specialized treatment. By developing an awareness towards mental illness and substance abuse, the stigma can be reduced encouraging people to think twice before they speak out or act out based on an unfounded belief they have. Individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness or substance abuse should be allowed to have the same opportunities that others whom are not struggling with these things. By having a safe place to live and a good job with access to quality healthcare, are things that individuals should be able to have access to regardless of any illnesses they may be diagnosed with.

References

Clark, W., Welch, S. N., Berry, S. H., Collentine, A. M., Collins, R., Lebron, D., & Shearer, A. L. (2013). California’s historic effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness: The Mental Health Services Act. American journal of public health, 103(5), 786–794. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301225

Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). (n.d.). The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/cciio/programs-and-initiatives…

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (n.d.). Facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-ada.html

 

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