Stigma presents a significant barrier for patients seeking the mental health care they need to manage their symptoms.

Breaking the Barriers of Stigma to Treatment

Nearly eight of every 100 Texans has a substance use disorder (SUD) according to a 2018 report from the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Individuals with severe SUDs commonly have co-occurring mental health conditions that also require intervention. At least one third of adults and one fourth of youth with SUDs in Texas have co-morbid psychiatric conditions, which likely under-represents the prevalence of mental health issues in Texas as many go unreported, according to the same report.

Stigma presents a significant barrier for patients seeking the mental health care they need to manage their symptoms. While it is difficult to pinpoint the number of patients who receive inadequate care due to stigma, one study by Corrigan, Druss, and Perlick (2014) found about 40% of the 60 million patients nationwide suffering from mental illness go without treatment.

It is important to consider how the language prescribers use in their patient care can be pivotal in dismantling perceived stigma and increasing patient health outcomes. When checking the Prescription Monitoring Program every patient, every time, this is important to remember when discussing concerning data about sensitive topics with patients.

Communication Strategies to Reduce Stigma

What we say and how we say it makes a difference to patients with substance use disorder. One of the best ways you can combat perceived mental health and substance use disorder stigma is using person-first language. Multiple studies find that patient-cen- tered language that focuses on behaviors can reduce stigma and increase positive health outcomes. Using person-first language maintains the integrity of individuals as whole beings, rather than solely defining them by their condition.

For example, saying that a patient has a “substance use disorder” has a neutral tone and distinguishes the person from their diagnosis. While saying someone is a “drug addict,” characterizes a person using a single trait.

Here are some other examples:

  • Instead of “drug abuse”, say “medication misuse”
  • Instead of “drug problem”, say “unhealthy medication use”
  • Instead of referring to someone as “clean”, say “person in recovery”

Addiction is a mental health issue. Thinking of substance use disorders in this way can help reframe how both medication misuse and other mental health symptoms can contribute to one another. By using person-first language and seeing patients as people separate from their health conditions, it can make a difference in someone feeling safe enough to ask for help or treatment.

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1 Corrigan, P. W., Druss, B. G., & Perlick, D. A. (2014). The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care. Psychological science in the public interest : a journal of the American Psychological Society, 15(2), 37–70. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100614531398

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