If you didn’t already know, September is National Recovery Month in the US. That is, recovery from substance use disorder and/or mental illness, and is brilliantly sandwiched between International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug 31, 2018 and Canada’s Mental Illness Awareness Week from Oct 1-7, 2018.

Expert on substance use disorder and mental illness 

We say the timing is brilliant because these two topics often go hand in hand.

As Canada’s renowned Dr. Gabor Mate says “…the addiction is neither a choice nor a disease, but originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self. In short, it is a forlorn attempt to solve the problem of human pain. Hence my mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”

And for all those smug within themselves thinking they don’t have these issues, he goes on to say, “Note that this definition is not restricted to drugs but could encompass almost any human behavior, from sex to eating to shopping to gambling to extreme sports to TV to compulsive internet use: the list is endless.”

And it’s about time. We really need to step up our game in terms of awareness, acceptance and assistance to those who suffer. These are the only illnesses that are seen as a moral failing or weakness of character. But as you’ve read above, that’s not what’s really going on. And so many suffer in silence from something that’s not their fault. This is not right.

Mental illness champion

Wil Wheaton gave a heartrending talk recently about how he now refuses to be ashamed about suffering from mental illness. We don’t shame and refuse those with cancer or diabetes. Why would we do this to those that suffer from these painful troubles?

Wil talks about how he “suffered because though we in American have done a lot to help people who live with mental illness, we have not done nearly enough to make it ok for our fellow travelers on the wonky brain express to reach out and accept that help.

And it’s equally true in Canada. According to statistics gathered by CAMH about the 1 in 5 people who experience substance use disorder/mental illness in Ontario, Canada:

  • 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.
  • 39% of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
  • 40% of respondents to a 2016 survey agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.

Wil goes on to talk about working to end the stigma and prejudices that surrounds mental illness in America. “We can start by demanding that our elected officials fully fund mental health programs. No person anywhere, especially here in the richest country in the world, should live in the shadows or suffer alone, because they can’t afford treatment. We have all the money in the world for weapons and corporate tax cuts, so I know that we can afford to prioritize not just health care in general, but mental health care, specifically.”

Well said, Wil! So where to start?

How to help or get help

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance use disorder and mental illness on America’s communities.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness

Project UROK(US)
Project UROK is an inclusive community with expert mental health resources for teens and young adults who are committed to ending the stigma and isolation of struggling with mental illness.

A fundamental objective of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) is to engage Canadians in a national conversation about mental illness. By starting this conversation, CAMIMH hopes to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and provide insight into the services and support available to those living with mental illness.

The Canada Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) was created by Parliament to provide national leadership to address substance use in Canada. They produce guidance for decision makers by harnessing the power of research, curating knowledge and bringing together diverse perspectives.​ They discuss mental health and substance use disorder here.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centres in its field.

The end

About 4,000 Canadians per year die by suicide at an average of almost 11 suicides a day. It affects people of all ages and backgrounds but 50% are by people 45 years of age and older.

It’s probably quite similar all over the world and we need to change this. Let’s dig in and help, however and whomever we can. We need end the stigma now.