Mental health issues are medical conditions which affect the behavior, social ability and perceptions of the sufferer. Such conditions are most often diagnosed utilizing data within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, first published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952. This manual is updated and renewed as new disorders are recognized and defined, or as treatment and diagnosis criteria are developed and updated.
The National Institute of Mental Health states in any one year, one in four American adults will experience mental health problems. This will vary from forms of depression requiring medication and counseling but from which complete recovery is possible, to long-term adjustment disorders, to life-long disorders which may have legal implications for the sufferer. For example, the extremes of behavior sometimes exhibited by those living with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) reduce the ability to make informed and rational decisions and can lead to law-breaking activity.
The Stigma of a Mental Health Diagnosis
Although mental health conditions are common, there is still a social stigma to being diagnosed with a condition. The wide variety of conditions that come under the ‘mental health’ definition each have their own social interactive potential such as behavioral or decision-making difficulties. This has led to ‘mental health’ becoming a diagnosis stigmatized by society and by the sufferer. Acceptance of the existence of a problem is the first step to finding treatment, but the stigma can stop a person from seeking help. Exactly the same sort of social stigma exists for those with addiction problems.
Distorted media reporting and casual use of words associated with mental health conditions exacerbate the stigma. The myth that mental health problems mean lack of ability in other areas of mental tasking, such as in work life, means those diagnosed with any mental health issue face discrimination. The media reporting of criminal activities in which reference is made to the criminal being ‘insane’ or ‘mad’, or the fear-mongering reporting style with conditions such as schizophrenia, exacerbates the situation. Statistically those with mental health issues are far more likely to harm themselves than anyone else.
Chicken and Egg
Everydayhealth.com posits up to 50% of people with addiction will also suffer serious mental health problems, whereas 20% of all those with mental health problems will develop an addiction. For some conditions such as paranoid schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the statistical correlation is as high as 50%.
Self-medication is a common pathway to addiction. Many conditions remove the inhibitions we learn throughout life which minimize risky decisions, potentially leading to drug, alcohol and sex addictions. Addiction is a compulsive behavior in which people chase a ‘high;” the addiction is to the high. This high temporarily removes the symptom of the mental health issue, and becomes the medication which leads to addiction.
Drug and alcohol abuse can cause mental health problems. For example a 2005 study published by the British Institute of Psychiatry shows the habitual use of ‘skunk’ in adolescence led to early-onset diagnosis of paranoid and schizophrenic conditions in 1/3 of users. Depression and anxiety disorders are also very common in addicted people.
Successful recovery requires that both the addiction and the mental health condition be addressed. The use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate may mask symptoms of mental health conditions making treatment of both the addiction and the condition problematic. Careful analysis of the patient is vital to the successful treatment of both.
Diagnosis and treatment leads to a high success rate for recovery for people suffering from mental health problems. The National Alliance for Mental illness cites 70% to 90% of people significantly reduce symptoms and have personally more fulfilling lives through prescription and/or psychotherapeutic assistance. Early diagnosis and treatment has a higher recovery success rate.
Addiction and mental health problems need to be treated at the same time but also recognized as the separate issues they are. For sufferers, the recovery from addiction does not mean the mental health issue will disappear. Some health conditions are chronic, meaning the person will have to develop strategies and treatments in order to live with the conditions for their entire lives. Treatment must take into account the chronic nature of the condition and ensure steps are put in place to enable the sufferer to live with the condition without a recurrence of the addiction.
The correlation of mental health issues and addiction is widely understood and treatment programs address this. Mental health diagnosis does not preclude successful rehabilitation. Successful rehabilitation can and does support and bolster successful treatment of mental health issues and for the patient, the future is bright.