Reducing stigma in mental health treatment

By Mary Leaver Citizen Potawatomi Nation

A psychologist and licensed alcohol and drug counselor, Dr. Julio Rojas is an advocate for his patients, and even more so when social stigma surrounds seeking help for mental health.

“I think stigma is how we view a person as inferior or unworthy simply because of who they are, or some condition they have, or some circumstance in life,” he said. .

Stigma exists everywhere

Reducing the stigma around mental health treatment is necessary to encourage people to seek treatment themselves, Rojas said. Patients who seek help for their problems may immediately face judgment or prejudice, even from the medical community.

“They might say, ‘I struggled with addiction,’ and then the provider might swing around with that one word and warn them that they better never try to get painkillers from them,” he said. he declares.

If patients experience this type of reaction when they identify as being in recovery or as someone struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, the patient’s confidence may begin to erode.

Patients who don’t trust their provider are less likely to seek treatment for their problems, he said. It can also lead patients to lose hope that there is a solution to the problem. Rojas recalled a patient who came for treatment and continually apologized:

“I bet he said ‘I’m sorry’ to me about 25 times. I said, ‘Why are you sorry?’ He said, “I’m sorry for taking your time. I’m sorry my life is a mess. If he’s seen a doctor, he probably never said, ‘I’m sorry, I have diabetes.’ I’m sorry, I have cardiovascular disease,” but society told him that when you’re someone who struggles with drug addiction, you’re weak. You’re selfish. And unfortunately, before he developed the problem, he believed probably a lot of things society had taught him to believe,” Rojas said.

Fortunately, the patient took the first step by seeking treatment. Rojas said he got the help he needed, but it was an example of how stigma damages a person’s self-esteem and ability to say, “I Need help “. When patients don’t feel comfortable reaching out, they can become more isolated, which is very harmful for people with addictions or other mental health diagnoses.

Rojas said the problem is worse within communities that are already marginalized because of their race, socioeconomic status or disability. For example, if someone is a racial or ethnic minority and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, they may face heightened stigma, he said.

Compounded stigma can be defined as the additive and cumulative impact of being a member of one or more marginalized groups (e.g. racial/ethnic minority, LGBTQ+) and suffering from addiction, mental illness and/or trauma , said Rojas. Each of these identifications carries its own stigma, therefore, it is a greater burden on the health and well-being of the person. More importantly, it negatively impacts their ability to seek help, trust others, and take care of their physical and mental health and well-being, he said.

Help loved ones

If people have a family member or loved one who needs mental health assistance, they should first set aside any biases they might have before starting a conversation, Rojas said.

“What do you think of an alcoholic person? Why do you think what you think, and is it a useful way to treat sick people? Is it a helpful way to talk to someone who is hurting? ” He asked.

Rojas also urges people to speak to someone who has successfully recovered.

“There are a bunch of people who are making successful recovery, and they’re happy to tell you about their journey,” he said. “If you or your recovering family members can be more open about it and talk about getting advice and help, then that’s a sign of strength.”

Rojas also recommends reading books that emphasize the importance of kindness when talking to a loved one who is struggling with addiction. One of his favorites is Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.

“How can we love people who are suffering and at the same time help them get better?” He asked. “Sometimes we get angry at the behaviors of someone who is using, or we get angry at feeling powerless to convince or change them. In this frustration, we pull from our ugliest side, a hurtful side.

Rojas also urges people to focus on something other than addiction. A single conversation about something positive could be the catalyst that helps the person seek treatment.

“I’ve spoken to many parents who’ve lost their kids to addiction, and the common regret they have is that’s all they talked about,” Rojas said. “They didn’t talk about the goals this person had. Who knows how a conversation about a goal or a dream could become the first step to sobriety? »

Although Rojas does not currently treat children or adolescents, he always encourages parents to create open and honest communication about any family history of addiction or substance abuse.

“Family history itself doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. But if you have a family history and these issues come up later, you can talk about it,” Rojas said.

He said parents can look for opportunities to talk about mental health with children, such as when a high-profile person like a celebrity or athlete mentions it. He hopes people will start thinking about behavioral health the same way they think about visiting the dentist or their primary care physician.

The stakes are high but the help is there

Rojas hopes people will overcome any doubts they may have about seeking help.

“When I sit with a person, I know all the obstacles they had to overcome just to sit there at that time. For some of them, it took them five or ten years just to s ‘to sit in that chair,” he said. “When I think about it from that perspective, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about hope, to talk about healing, to talk about possibility. “

Rojas said that since the stakes are often high, affecting all aspects of a person’s life, this can be another barrier to seeking help.

“If you have a mental illness, you risk losing custody of your children. You risk losing your civil liberty. There’s a reason for this apprehension because we as a society do things to people with mental illness, and that usually doesn’t help,” he said.

Rojas said some of his patients have been denied life insurance due to mental illness, lost their jobs, or been denied the chance to serve in the military.

Fortunately, many treatment options have moved away from blaming the person seeking help, Rojas said. In the 1990s, patients were told they were reckless, dangerous, or selfish because of their addiction. This harsh approach is counterproductive, he said, and can push the patient away rather than lure them to help.

He is also encouraged by the approach of addressing all of a patient’s needs at the same time, rather than one at a time. Patients had to stay sober for a year before being treated for other problems. This method did not recognize that the patient may have first started abusing substances to treat depression, anxiety or other disorders. This resulted in fewer patients staying sober for a year.

Rojas said an integrated approach is the best way to treat the person by addressing the issues that contribute to the patient’s risk of returning to use.

Above all, Rojas wants to encourage people to break through barriers and seek help.

“If you find it difficult to pick up the phone or talk to someone about what’s going on in your mind and heart, what I would encourage is to resist the messages that our society has communicated: you don’t “You are not defective. You are worthy. You can get better. There is help. There are people who want to help you,” he said.

For more information about CPN’s behavioral health services, visit cpn. news/bh or call 405-214-5101.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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