A Sound Mind: Stigma

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 1:05 PM EDT
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Substance Use and mental health disorders are often considered an epidemic in Aroostook County. With organizations and agencies dedicated to combating the crisis, why don’t more of those affected reach out for help? As part of our ongoing series on mental health and substance abuse, Brian Bouchard looks at the stigma surrounding those who seek treatment.

“We really want people to be able to stay close to home. Its hard when people get to the point where they need help and then they have to go further away from home. Well home is probably where your resources are, where your support system is. But we also know that stigma really drives that, that individuals sometimes have a hard time reaching out because their nervous, scared, afraid of judgement, afraid of “oh maybe somebody in the community will find out that I reached out””

Michelle Ferris, Chief Operations Officer at AMHC says judgement and negative connotations surrounding treatment often deters those who seek it.

“Many people don’t because they are nervous that they’re going to be judged because they grew up in a household or in a community that says “You should be able to deal with this, mental health isn’t a real thing” and “You should be able to just get over it, pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. So there’s still a culture shift that we need to keep working on in terms of supporting individuals to reach out for help.”

“For someone to come out and say “I have a substance use disorder” is hard. For them to walk into sometimes a building an say “I’m looking for help” or make that phone call. What happens is that when we start speaking out loud, it opens the conversation up, it removes the stigma, it removes the shame, and so it allows for someone to come in and say “This is my story” and I need help.

Sarah Baker-Corbett, a substance use counselor for AMHC says the stigma goes so far, people often turn down free, lifesaving products like Narcan.

“Even like when we hand out Narcan, their like “Well people will see me with it”. It’s a first aid kit, to each their own, but it’s a first aid kit of some sorts where it’s life saving. There are people in our community that if they saw someone having an overdose in a car, which can happen, they wouldn’t know what to do, right? And so by having these conversations we can save a life, which gives that person another chance, and every chance is worth it.”

And while treatment can change the life of those living with a substance use or mental health disorder, both Ferris and Baker Corbett say the best way to combat the crisis is to change the communities response to treatment.

“People are entitled to their thoughts, and they’re going to have feeling about it and change doesn’t happen overnight. So, I would say that until we can start speaking about it and showing people that there is help that’s when we start saving lives, that’s when we start saving families” says Baker-Corbett.

“If there’s any one thing that I think we could do different its just to reduce the judgement, reduce the stigma and allow people space, safe space that it’s okay to reach out.” says Ferris.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8

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