Mental health often carries an unfair stigma. This negative perception is a gray cloud that conceals a human truth: that we all have mental health. Just like physical health, mental health is an important factor for everyone. May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, a 31-day commitment to encouraging people to understand their own well-being. This year’s theme, Risky Business, highlights a series of dangerous behaviors and habits that could contribute to the development or exacerbation of a mental illness.

The six habits outlined by Mental Health America 一 risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use and troublesome exercise patterns 一 all have ties to addiction in one way or another. Whether it’s a dependence on desire, shopping or drugs, once it manifests itself as a mental illness, it can be difficult to determine which preceded the other. That’s why it’s so important to take control of your own health, vigilantly checking habits that could negatively impact your mental state.

What Is Mental Health?

According to mentalhealth.gov, mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological and social well-being, affecting how we think, feel and act. A variety of factors determine a person’s predisposition for mental health problems, including family history, trauma or abuse, and biology. Unsurprisingly, these factors also often contribute to drug and alcohol misuse. To maintain mental health, you need a delicate balance between social interactions, stress levels, sleep, nutrition and more. Adding drugs and other addictive substances into the mix often has negative implications on overall health.

A man in a plaid shirt sits pensively at a window as he reflects on his mental health.

Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

For many, addiction and mental health go hand in hand. In a clinical setting, it can be difficult to identify which came first once a person is in the throes of a substance use disorder.  Because mental health is such an integral part of a person’s overall health, it’s imperative that it be treated along with drug addiction when both are at play. Co-occurring disorders are medically identified combinations of substance use disorder and mental illness, like alcoholism alongside depression.

There are a variety of combinations of drug and alcohol use disorders and mental illnesses. While an estimated 8.4 million adults in the United States suffer from both mental and substance use disorders, only about 7.9 percent of people are treated for both. Oftentimes, addiction is treated on its own, without identifying the underlying cause or contributing factors. Substances are often used to soothe pain from abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, which can also contribute to mental illness. These disorders are all intimately intertwined and should be addressed as such. That’s why it’s so important to understand and identify mental health problems before, during and after an issue arises with substance use.

If addiction is an issue, it cannot be treated alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 53.7 percent of people with co-occurring disorders are not treated for their addiction or mental health problems, creating a never-ending cycle of substance use and mental illness. Programs at The Recovery Village treat both addiction and mental health problems in tandem, ensuring that both are addressed for a more successful recovery. When issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and eating disorders are identified by a medical professional, it is much easier to understand triggers for addiction.

Mentally Healthy Habits

Maintaining mental health starts in childhood and is a lifelong endeavour. But having an untroubled childhood doesn’t necessarily ensure a lifetime of mental stability. A balanced family life and caring environment are the foundations of mental health, but prolonged health requires individual maintenance and constant awareness. Just as anyone is susceptible to the flu, everyone is prone to mental illness without proper checks and balances in place.

Because so many turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with major struggles, it is important to have alternative coping strategies to maintain both physical and mental health. Studies show that those facing significant mental health challenges are far more likely to develop a substance use disorder. In fact, compared to others, people with severe mental illnesses are about four times more likely to drink alcohol in excess and 4.6 times more likely to use other drugs at least 10 times in their lives. These odds stress the importance of mental health as a priority, as mental illness can often lead to substance use disorders.

There are simple steps that you can take to avoid a mental health crisis and decrease the chances of misusing substances to cope with illness. Mental Health America outlines the following 10 tools to help you live well:

  1. Connect with others
  2. Stay positive
  3. Get physically active
  4. Help others
  5. Get enough sleep
  6. Create joy and satisfaction
  7. Eat well
  8. Take care of your spirit
  9. Deal better with hard times
  10. Get professional help if you need it
A person improves their mental health by writing in a gratitude journal.

While some of these tips are simple, like eating well or getting enough sleep, others may seem more subjective and difficult to manage, especially if you are already experiencing depression or other mental challenges. “Staying positive” is certainly easier said than done in many instances, but building an optimistic outlook is a daily practice, just like any other skill. Keeping a gratitude journal, savoring sweet moments in life and sharing good news with others are all small steps toward optimism. While it is natural to feel a fluctuation in emotion, an overall practice of positivity can put things into perspective and help you differentiate between true tragedy and daily inconveniences.

Understanding how to cope with a change in your mental state is also key. Changes in energy levels, loss of interest in otherwise enjoyable activities, disruption of normal eating habits and extended feelings of emptiness, sadness or guilt can all be symptoms of mental illness. Seeking professional help is a responsible way to manage your emotions and improve your mental health. Mental Health America offers a variety of mental health screening tests online to help determine if you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness. Identifying a problem is the first step toward healing and preventing further issues like drug or alcohol addiction.

Flipping the Script on Mental Health

Despite the importance of mental health, especially as it relates to addiction, a strong stigma still surrounds the issue. This prevents many from seeking the help they need. By working to shed the negative stereotypes associated with mental health, we can begin a new narrative and help people cope with life’s challenges in a productive way without drugs and alcohol.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of mental illness or using drugs or alcohol to cope, reach out to The Recovery Village to learn more about holistic treatment programs for co-occurring disorders and healthy living.

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Understanding Addiction and Mental Illness
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Renee Deveney

About Renee Deveney

Renée Deveney is a Florida-based writer dedicated to helping people overcome addiction and substance use disorder. A Southern girl at heart, she loves wraparound porches, chicken biscuits and overusing the word “y’all.” When she’s not writing for The Recovery Village, you’ll find Renée dreaming of her next travel destination, painting or catching up on classic films.

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Understanding Addiction and Mental Illness was last modified: June 18th, 2017 by The Recovery Village