Friday, July 13, 2018

Quieting the Silence: Addictions, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Education

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
The Quieting the Silence symposium was an insightful night of addiction, substance abuse, and mental health education for the over 200 people in attendance.  The purpose was to engage in dialogue about the ways mental health and addictions adversely impact the community. Coincidentally, the event was in May 2018, a month before the reported suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade.  Overnight, the media was saturated with stories and opinions about suicide and mental health.  Their discussions caused me to reflect on what I learned and my lasting impressions, of which I may have filed away had it not been for the media attention surrounding the suicides.

During the two hour program, multiple speakers shared their personal struggles with candor and sensitivity. A young woman gave a riveting speech about her addiction to opiates, and the impact her lifestyle had on family and friends.  A mother revealed the challenges managing her three children, all of whom suffer from mental illness.  A young widow held back tears as she told the story of her husband’s suicide. Each speaker implored on the need to remove the social stigmas attached to mental illness and addictions.  In essence, why is it socially acceptable to have a personal dentist but not a therapist? How many people need therapy but do not seek it due to fear of judgment?  Recently, a colleague told me that she has no shame in telling people about her therapy appointments. Good for her.  Seeking the help of a qualified professional, whether it be a chiropractor or therapist, should not only be approved, but supported.

Programs like Quieting the Silence are essential because our communities can no longer pretend like mental illness,or any other addiction, only happens to the 'other'.  No, it happens to our families, neighbors, friends, loved ones, and ourselves.  No one should suffer in silence, be too ashamed to seek help, or be shunned.  Let us quiet the silence and speak up.

Below are links to just a few organizations doing their part to address mental illness and substance abuse problems in the community:

A few days after I initially posted this blog, a Dear Abby article profiled a story in which a teenager was abandoned by her friends because of her stay in a treatment facility for depression. The rejection was painful for both the teenager and her mother. I presume that if the teenager were in the hospital for a physical ailment then her friends would have acted differently. Often, we sympathize illnesses of the body but not of the mind. Unfortunately, this story is not an outlier, it is quite common. This is why removing the stigma around mental illness is important.

                                                          Picture taken by Tuwanda Muhammad
                                In nature, trees adapt to their environment.  They bend to face the sun.

Moosazadeh, S. (2018, May 30). 200+ Break silence on addiction, mental illness. Retrieved from:

Buren, A.B. (2018, July 16). Dear Abby: friends abandon teen treated for depression. Retrieved from:

Written by Tuwanda Muhammad

I would love to hear from you.  Please comment:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a well-written and sensitive take on attitudes toward mental health problems. It could be because they are a bit more mysterious than physical illnesses. Also, some people fear they might be contagious or trigger anxiety in the "other." As more people share personal experiences with addiction and depression, the cloud may lift--hopefully.
Thanks, Tuwanda