• Stigma and Behavioral Health- Creating a Culture of Empowerment

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    Last month was Recovery month and I found myself reflecting on the importance of behavioral health and wellness in our community. I’ve spent decades working in the areas of substance use and mental health treatment services and there is one thing I’ve learned for certain: things change; treatment modalities evolve; and programs and services expand and grow. Yet, through it all, my belief in the miracle of recovery has remained steadfast.

    At Rosecrance we know that the healthiest, happiest and most productive communities have behavioral health services in their infrastructure. The same is true of the workplace. A workplace that fosters an empowering and de-stigmatized environment, and values the behavioral health and wellness of its employees is altogether more successful. Unfortunately, that is often the exception and not the rule.

    Less than half of working Americans say the culture in their organization supports employee well-being, while one in three reports chronic stress as a result of the job, according to a 2016 Work and Well-Being Survey by the American Psychological Association. While it is the responsibility of everyone to cultivate a positive work environment and combat stigma related to behavioral health, employers and leaders of the workplace should be held especially accountable.

    Stigma and Behavioral Health Disorders

    The notion that a behavioral health disorder is somehow a moral failing is lessening considerably, but it still exists. Stigma may not directly affect you or someone you love, but it impacts the lives of the one in five Americans living with mental health conditions, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the 21 million Americans living with substance use disorders, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

    Many people who live with a behavioral health diagnosis have been blamed for their condition at some point in their lives. They’ve heard ostracizing expressions like—“if only you tried to quit” or “the way you are feeling is just a phase.” Mental health and substance use disorders are diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, and until that realization is universal we all have work to do.

    Creating a Culture of Empowerment

    It can feel like a hopeless pursuit to fight stigma and advocate for wellness at your place of work. But, I want to remind you, as with any organizational change— it doesn’t matter how small you start, only that you do. Stigma promotes and perpetuates an environment of fear, shame and silence, all of which are toxic in the workplace.

    NAMI suggests some easy ways to reduce and reverse stigma, such as: talk openly, educate yourself and others, be conscious of language, encourage equality between physical and mental illness, show compassion and be honest. Of course, this all sounds great in theory, but how do we actually put this into practice?

    The solution starts with trying and trying again; it starts with small steps and big hearts. I urge you to be more honest, more compassionate and more willing to listen. Consider whether someone you interact with on a daily basis is suffering; your support could make all the difference.

    Rosecrance seeks to increase awareness and ‘change the conversation’ of substance use and mental health disorders to reduce stigma. In doing so, we hope to offer solutions for our clients in recovery, but also to our employees in the workplace and the community at large. Together we can foster a community that is rooted in courage, uphold a culture of strength over silence and allow everyone to feel seen, heard and understood. It’s time we start valuing wellness and ensuring the health of our community members. With that at the forefront, I trust everything else will follow.

    Rosecrance offers a variety of training exercises for professionals and businesses of all sizes. And if you or someone you know is experiencing a substance use or mental health disorder, please don’t delay. Seek help today!

    Philip W. Eaton is the President/CEO of Rosecrance Health Network, a national leader in addiction and mental health treatment that serves more than 30,000 individuals and families annually.