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Mental Health

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health, SUD Impacts Treatment

— January 26, 2023

Many individuals avoid receiving depression, substance use treatment due to social stigmatization.

According to a study performed in Tehran by Iranian medical science researchers, people with substance use disorders who are predisposed to depression are more likely to have self-stigma regarding their substance use dilemma. Depression is a substantial problem worldwide, affecting hundreds of millions of people, and many of those who suffer from depression also have issues with substance use disorders. Self-stigma, and the general stigma surrounding mental health and substance use, poses a difficulty for those trying to treat their condition because it can cause the patient to avoid receiving the help they deserve.  

Addiction self-stigma is often a reflection of the overall societal stigma towards substance use. Substance addiction is stigmatized in all cultures, but some cultures are much worse than others. Using figures from the recent study, there are likely millions of users around the world who are reluctant to get the help they need because of the guilt and shame they feel.  

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health, SUD Impacts Treatment
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

It would help to understand exactly what the term self-stigma means (not only the meaning of the word but its overall real-world application and the effect it has on behavior). Self-stigma refers to negative beliefs a person has about themselves. When it comes to substance users who also are prone to depression, there is a double stigma surrounding these conditions due to the existence of an underlying mental health condition and the way mental illness has traditionally been viewed in society. Both issues have to be treated, or the treatment may not be successful. This is what mental health care practitioners are up against when trying to help their patients.

Stigma can lead to risky behaviors among users who feel too ashamed to get the help they need. People suffering from addiction can increase their usage of illicit substances and indulge in riskier behaviors. This will undoubtedly lead to increased self-stigma, thus, perpetuating a vicious cycle that can only be upended through treatment.

Despite the gloomy outlook on this issue, steps are being taken worldwide that seem to be having a positive impact on the success rates of substance use disorder treatment and overcoming overall stigma surrounding addiction issues. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic seemed to ignite change, as individuals sought unity through slogans such as “together we will” and “we’re all in this together.” Because the entire world was suffering, it became easier to acknowledge struggle and to seek resources to combat it. Even those who may have stigmatized mental health and addiction previously began to better understand these conditions and the importance of seeking help.

In addition to efforts to educate the public about substance use disorder and depression, other resources have become available to those suffering in recent years. Safe injection sites, for example, have been popping up in cities where addiction is especially high and free Narcan has been distributed by pharmacies and advocacy groups. Obviously, additional steps need to be taken towards destigmatization, but society has begun to make strides in the right direction.    


Depressive features suggest pull toward self-stigma in those with substance use disorders 

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