Friday, September 5, 2014

Changing How We View Mental Health and Addiction

As I was watching the Emmy's with my family this past weekend, we commented on just how many losses there were in the industry this year, of celebrities who were being remembered that evening.

One of them, perhaps one of the most talented of them all, Philip Seymour Hoffman. His death affected so many people I love deeply, and touched the hearts and minds of just about everyone who has ever struggled with mental illness, with addiction or with them both.

It was my hope back then that his death would stimulate a more open dialogue in our society about the comorbidity of mental illness and addiction, spur more people on to acknowledging and accepting the reality that these two things often come hand in hand with one another. Sometimes it is one that precipitates the other, usually the addiction coming after a struggle with mental illness.


There was, to some extent a dialogue opened in the wake of his death, but eventually it seemed that the focus on the drugs themselves drowned out the parts that mattered more. The underlying depression. The connection between depression and addiction. Those important pieces got lost in the discussions and arguments about drugs.

It is impossible, even with all the best resources in the world, to truly combat addiction without addressing the very conditions that often lead someone to substance abuse (or any other form of addition for that matter) in the first place. Those conditions, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and more, conditions that our society doesn't seem to fully understand. Conditions we don't often treat or manage adequately.

People struggling with some of these conditions are still frequently blamed in our world, held accountable for this thing that happens to them through no fault or choice of their own. We do not, on a societal level, see mental illness as a true illness in the same way we do diseases of the body. We, for some reason, prefer to labor under the delusion that mental illness is different, more conscious, more intentional, more controllable.
If we believe that about mental illness, we believe it even more about addiction.

It isn't, and we absolutely need to change the dialogue about it in this country. We need to start having the difficult conversations about mental illness and how prevalent it is. We need to talk about how woefully inadequate our system is to diagnose and treat patients. We need to make a conscious choice to elevate the treatment of mental health conditions to the same level as all the other conditions people suffer from. Ultimately, we need to begin to unravel the connections between mental illness and addiction.

We need to change the way we see and treat addiction. We need to ensure that people can receive coverage of treatment through their health insurance plans. We need to make programs accessible and affordable to all who need them. We need to understand that there are so many variations among patients and that what works for one may not work for another, so they need options. We need to admit that the way we've approached this in the past isn't good enough, and then we need to do better.

To do it, we need a revolution of sorts. We need to educate the new generation of medical professionals, of therapists, of counselors, to treat patients as a whole, not just address the specific symptoms that brought them into the office that day. We need new ways of thinking, and we need brave leadership to get there.

The Center for Health Innovation at Adelphi University is doing just that. In a poll just released, they have found that mental health professionals want to change how addiction is treated, they want more options to help patients, and they want to see more technology being used in the field.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Adelphi University. The opinions and text are all mine.

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