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Mental Health Month

Are You Woke?

This question has been on many people’s minds over the last few years. Some of us are trying to get woke, others think they already are, and some don’t want to be accused of it. Merriam-Webster defines woke as being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues especially issues of race and social justice.”

Regardless of our individual relationship to the word, we can probably agree that awareness is usually a good thing. It’s also essential for making positive changes – at the societal level and in our own day-to-day lives. Awareness is a centerpiece of the stages of change theory, and it underlies many of the 12 steps of recovery. This might explain why we have so many awareness days, weeks and months.

In May alone, Fentanyl Awareness Day encourages us to wake up to the impact of fentanyl and opioids which are contributing to 136 people a day. Mental Health Month reminds us to prioritize and take care of our mental health. It turns out, these two issues are not unrelated.

Fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any other cause of death. Knowing this, we may become more motivated to do something about it. Approximately half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. This awareness helps us understand addiction as a complex disease with many underlying causes including brain chemistry, genetics, environmental factors, and trauma.

But awareness, alone, is not enough. It’s what we do with our newfound understanding that counts. Our willingness to take the next step turns awareness into action and becomes a powerful force for change. Here are a few ways to turn your awareness into meaningful action.

  1. Check yourself. What is your relationship to mind-altering substances? What are you doing to support your mental health? During these stressful times, it’s easy to lose sight of our own health and well-being. If you need support, don’t be afraid to seek it out. In the process, you may inspire someone else to do the same.
  2. Check your community. Becoming aware of problems is not enough. We need to educate ourselves about solutions as well. SAMHSA’s treatment locator or the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers directory can help you find local treatment providers. So can local peer support resources like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the National Association of Mental Illness.
  3. Reach out. If mental health or substance use issues are making your life hard to manage, get help. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, share your feelings with a trusted friend or healthcare provider, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. If you know someone who is struggling, share these resources with them.
  4. Speak out. More than half of people with mental health challenges don’t seek help. Only 1 in 10 people with substance use disorders receive treatment. Many people don’t get the care they need because of stigma—internalized shame and negative stereotypes and judgments around mental health and addiction. We can reduce stigma by sharing our experiences and educating ourselves and others about these treatable conditions.
  5. Help out. In addition to speaking out and reaching out, we can help by supporting local policies that promote prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery instead of overdose deaths and incarceration. We can also support local non-profits and coalitions that are working to address stigma and expand access to care.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, we can help. Contact us at susan@nextsteprecovery.com or 828-761-0722 to learn more about our intensive outpatient program, sober living community, and recovery services for men.


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