Mental Health and Substance Abuse

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a very heavy topic in general.  The unfortunate death of Naomi Judd last month has highlighted the tragic result of mental illness.  Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Chester Bennington, and Curt Kobain are just a few of the celebrities who died as a result of their mental illness. 

However someone chooses to go -many died as a result of a purposeful or accidental overdose on drugs.  All were struggling with and suffering from depression and substance abuse prior to their deaths.  

Even though more and more celebrities are coming forward and speaking publicly about their own struggles with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, there is still a stigma attached to the topic in our society. 

Progress has been made since it is being talked about publicly, but it is still basically a taboo subject that makes people uncomfortable and causes others to jump to conclusions and be judgemental. 

So people suffer in silence. 

Many people struggle with their inner demons on their own.  They don’t seek professional help because then people would know.  People would talk and judge and blame. So they think they better deal with it on their own. 

People suffering from mental illness oftentimes self-medicate with alcohol or other substances to quiet the anxiety so they can pretend everything is ok when they are around people.  It helps them “appear normal” so no one suspects and they can keep their secret. 

When they are alone, it helps them escape the darkness of their depression if only for a little while.  Some people consume to the point of oblivion or pass out just so they don’t have to deal with things for a while.  It is the only way to quiet the voices and get a little peace. It is very sad really.

Even people who have consulted a professional and are open with their mental health issues struggle to cope at some level every day.  Perhaps a loved one or employee had struggles in the past, but they “are doing better now”. 

They may have been open in the past about their struggles, but don’t want to let everyone down now by relapsing, so they keep it a secret. 

You never really know what someone is going through.  They may be drowning in the darkness behind that bright smile they present to the world. It is what is expected of them.  

Not everyone who is using substances or alcohol is mentally ill, but if at some point the using becomes abusing, it needs to be addressed. 

Prolonged substance abuse can lead to mental health issues.  Some people hide it very well, but if you are watchful and pay attention, there are signs.

By paying attention and intervening, if possible, you may save someone’s life.  They may be struggling silently and in desperate need of help but unable to ask for it. 

A few things to watch for that would indicate a substance use issue:

  • Is there an unusual odor on their breath or clothes?
  • Are their pupils unusually large or small pinpoints?
  • Are their eyes bloodshot?
  • Are they unusually jittery and shaky? 
  • Is there an excessive amount of sniffling and nose rubbing going on? 
  • Are they slurring their speech?
  • Have trouble walking or other basic coordination?
  • Exhibiting fear and paranoia for no reason?

Over time you might notice the following concerning changes:

  • Extreme weight changes
  • Changes in grooming habits, deteriorating appearance
  • Mood swings
  • Personality changes or cycles
  • Becoming secretive and withdrawn

Again, not everyone using something to relax is mentally ill.  The key is noticing when the casual recreational usage crosses the line to dependence. 

There is a reason for it.  It is a tool for dealing with something. 

Getting professional help doesn’t necessarily make it all go away, but it gives assistance and other healthier tools for dealing with the issues.  Self-medicating is not the answer.  

If you suspect someone you love or are responsible for is struggling with substance use issues, a drug screening is a good place to start.  It will give you the knowledge to decide how to move forward.  Perhaps your company is a forward-thinking company that provides mental health support to its employees.  It is always better to catch a problem before it gets so big that the person no longer knows how to deal with it and chooses to end their life.  

By intervening in the drug use issue, you may be helping to save a life.  No appointment is necessary to have a drug screening done.  Bring your loved one or send your employee by the clinic and take the first step to get the needed help to uncover the true issues.  IPE Screening does not require a doctor, insurance, or an appointment.