September is Recovery Month. Just like diabetes and hypertension, mental health and substance abuse disorders are diseases that can be managed, enabling patients to live healthy and rewarding lives.
Just how prevalent are these diseases?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older (about one in four adults) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2012) indicates that an estimated 22.2 million people ages 12 or older (8.5 percent) were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the past year.
In comparison, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. And the Centers for Disease Control reports 30 percent of U.S. adults (or 68 million) have hypertension. Clearly, mental health and substance abuse disorders are as prevalent as other chronic, recurring diseases.
Of course, when it comes to mental health and substance abuse, many people view these disorders as character flaws rather than as true diseases, especially in terms of addiction relapse. However, research shows these are indeed brain diseases because the brains of those afflicted actually function and process information differently than a normal, healthy brain.
And as with other chronic diseases, people often relapse and begin abusing drugs again or fall deeper into their mental illness despite treatment. Realize, though, that relapse does not indicate failure. Just as diabetics need their treatment plan adjusted over time, so too do mental health and addiction patients.
Relapse is merely a signal that an alternative treatment option or plan is needed to help the individual recover.
So what can you do if someone you know suffers from a mental health or addiction disorder?
The most important thing is to help the person recognize they have a disease and that they can treat it and recover from it. Just as you would educate someone on the facts about high blood pressure, educate your loved one on what’s afflicting them.
Many people don’t want to go to treatment or they don’t want to admit that they have a disease because of the stigma associated with it. The best way to convince them otherwise is to educate them.
Support is also critical. When people have support from friends and family, they can keep on the right track and make steady progress each day. For example, if you learned that a family member was diabetic, you wouldn’t offer them candy and other sugary foods.
Offering support for mental health and addiction patients is no different. And remember, these are chronic and lifelong diseases. Even someone who has been in recovery for many years still needs ongoing support.
The good news is that for virtually all mental health and addiction diseases, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.