Andrew McNaughton, LCSW, CADC, Symmetry Counseling Chicago

Putting faces to statistics on mental health and substance use can help increase understanding and compassion for people struggling with addiction, mental illness, or dual diagnosis conditions. It can, however, be a difficult proposition to ask those in recovery to step into the spotlight of public attention. It is one thing for a mental health or addictions professional to be open about personal experiences in recovery, but many individuals in a wide range of professions feel they may be judged harshly for their pasts without consideration of their current accomplishments.

A recent New York Times Op-Ed piece by Laura Hilgers, “Let’s Open Up About Addiction and Recovery,” fully acknowledges this predicament. In it, Hilgers addresses the ongoing need to de-stigmatize addiction and recovery in order to address the growing epidemic of addiction to opioids and other substances. While acknowledging that “anonymity creates a sense of safety that recovering addicts desperately need,” Hilgers stresses the point that “people in recovery could play a vital role in ending the addiction epidemic” by being open about their successes in recovery, in an effort to change public perception about addiction.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I am transparent about my own battle with depression. I do this to emphasize that success is attainable through consistent engagement and being open to the possibility of hope. I also speak openly about my recovery, and what I do to sustain positive changes I have made in my life. I choose to do this for several reasons:

1)For the precise reasons Hilgers argues in her op-ed: that by being open about overcoming personal struggles achieved through receiving professional help, it contributes to overall de-stigmatization of mental health and/or substance use issues.

2)To demonstrate to people I encounter in both my professional and personal life that achieving lasting change is entirely possible if they are willing to actively work to achieve it.

3) And lastly, that I am a fallible human being who utilizes the tools and techniques I share with my clients in an ongoing effort to maintain motivation and lead a balanced life.

Through our own openness to share our experiences, those of us who feel safe in disclosing our successes in mental health and/or substance use disorder treatment can benefit others who are ambivalent about asking for help.

For the rest, I understand that there are personal and professional considerations that may inhibit this level of self-disclosure. I fully respect those limitations. I still ask those who are struggling or have overcome mental health and/or substance use problems to offer encouragement and support to others in whatever way they feel safe doing so.

Be supportive of friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances seeking out help for their problems. Speak positively about therapy, recovery, 12-Step and other support groups. Share information from trusted online sources on your social media such as links to mental health and recovery blogs from websites like The Mighty and The Fix. Volunteer with or donate to mental health advocacy groups like the American Federation for Suicide Prevention. This is potentially life-altering information and not everyone struggling with mental health and/or addiction are aware of it! Spread the word, and if you can, be the face of what successful therapy and/or recovery looks like.

Our therapists at Symmetry Counseling are trained in a multitude of clinical interventions and theoretical approaches for individuals, couples, and families to meet your needs. To face your struggles, contact us today.