Category Archives: Stigma

Tips on how to Help a Loved one with a Dual Diagnosis


drugabuse_istock-57702162-young-woman-upset-with-therapistOn September 12, 2016, I went to listen to former NHL player Clint Malarchuk speak for the World Suicide Prevention Day. He touched on how he would mix his medication with drinking and how it affected his mental illness, himself, his family and his suicidal thoughts.

I do know, from personal experience, how important it is to NOT mix alcohol and drugs or certain medications when you live with a mental illness. My father had a severe back injury, when I was one, and eventually became addicted to the pain medication. His addiction only heightened his manic depression episodes and suicidal tendencies. Further, my boyfriend started drinking and using drugs at a young age due to his panic and anxiety attacks. He found that alcohol and drugs were the easiest way to control and hide his mental illness and live his life. His first suicidal attempt was a result of being put on the wrong medication and almost overdosing on a mixture of street drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications. Years later, he attempted suicide again by overdosing on prescription drugs because he felt trapped and alone. All his life he`s lived with severe OCD, clinical depression and GAD. Here he is, in 2016, clean and sober for over 10 years, on the right medication and has a great support system.

A lot of people who live with mental illness tend to become addicted to either alcohol or drugs because it`s how they suppress and numb the mental illness and how they`re feeling. They may not know what resources and support are out there for them. They may be afraid and ashamed to ask for help.

The best way to help someone is to accept what you can and cannot do. You cannot force someone to stay clean, nor can you make someone take their medication or keep appointments. What you can do is make positive choices for yourself, encourage your loved one to get help, and offer your support while making sure you don’t lose yourself in the process. Below are some tips on how to support a loved one with a dual diagnosis.

1. Seek support. Dealing with a loved one’s dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse can be painful and isolating. Make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need to cope. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through. It can also help to get your own therapy or join a support group.

2. Set boundaries. Be realistic about the amount of care you’re able to provide without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Set limits on disruptive behaviours and stick to them. Letting them take over your life isn’t healthy for you or your loved one.

3. Educate yourself. Learn all you can about your loved one’s mental health problem, as well as substance abuse treatment and recovery. The more you understand what your loved one is going through, the better able you’ll be to support recovery.

4. Be patient. Recovering from a dual diagnosis doesn’t happen overnight. Recovery is an ongoing process that can take months or years, and relapse is common. Ongoing support for both you and your loved one is crucial as you work toward recovery.

By: Anita Levesque

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Lets Talk Mental Health!

Ending-Stigma-300x274Even though mental health research makes advances daily, especially in countries like the US and Canada, we have yet to eradicate the harm that stigma has on people with mental health issues. It is important to note, then, that stigma, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and so forth, have been found to be powerful barriers when it comes to accomplishing one’s life goals. So, who in the world would want to have a mental health diagnosis attached to his/her name in a world where mental health is seen as less than?

I want to share with you a story that challenged the way I thought about mental health –not only as a psychology master’s student, but also as a mom, a friend, and a caregiver- and I hope that it challenges you as well. Three years ago, my family and I decided to move abroad to a South American country, despite all of our Canadian friends and family advising us not to. Once in our new home, cultural differences quickly became evident, such as educational deficiencies and political problems, among many others. All of which are important when it comes to mental health.

About four months ago, I noticed how at my daughter’s school, one teacher was targeting a little boy who exhibited conflictive behaviours during an activity. I must say that I was very distraught with the way the teacher was handling the situation and making this little boy feel. I learned soon after that the child had been working with the psychology department and that some strategies were being applied. However, as a social worker, I could not just ignore the issue, so I decided I would talk to his mother and share what I had just seen. To my surprise, his mother told me that her son had been diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) at the age of 9. I was startled. I had been reading about this illness in my master’s program and I knew it was not an easy diagnosis for anyone to have. But one thing that struck me, even more, was the fact that I did not remember reading about MPD in children before. So, I decided to read up on it and I found that there was very little information concerning this type of population. In fact, there were only two academic single case studies looking at MPD in children. These studies clearly specified that children who have been diagnosed with MPD present over-the-top behaviours such as suicidal ideation, instability, identity distortion, troubled relationships, and so forth. But, most importantly, it was mentioned that there are no real tools to diagnose these children, and therefore, practitioners often have to use adult tools on children whose behaviours are by nature unstable.

It is here where I want you to think about how often we challenge those who diagnose us? How often do we challenge ourselves to go further and self-explore the information we receive? One of the ways to eradicate stigma, help those who really need it, and advocate for better services, is for us to think critically and openly start talking about mental health issues. Had the mother, in my previous example, felt comfortable talking about her child’s mental health issues with the other parents and classmates, her child may not have had to endure being mocked at school for “being special” or being resented by his schoolmates for receiving more attention from teachers. Unfortunately, however, the mother lived in a country where personal image was everything and so talking about her child’s illness was not an option.

As I said previously, cultural and educational differences define us quite strongly in the way we do things. However, and maybe needless to say, despite all the economic, political and social differences that separate us, many people still struggle with the idea of a mental health diagnosis and live with it quietly and painfully. Just like any other physical health disease, mental health should be a concern to all, not just to those suffering from it. So, let’s talk about mental health!

By: Diana Blanchette