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Which Came First?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. There is plenty of info out there on this topic, so I’m switching up the focus to talk about mental illness and drug addiction.

I’ve previously shared my thoughts on the way we treat (or should I say “don’t treat”) mental illness. You can read about it here.

Not everyone who has a mental illness uses drugs or alcohol to cope, and not every person addicted to a drug has a mental illness.

According to some studies, the percentage is 50/50 - but studies aren’t always right. They don’t always take into consideration all the factors, like which drugs or what type of mental illness.

I’ve also seen statistics that say with opioid addiction, the percentage can be higher, while in alcohol addiction, the percentage may be lower.

Why does it even matter? What difference does it make?

It matters because what both diseases have in common is they’re both often stigmatized and misunderstood. This can lead to individuals experiencing shame, fear, and isolation. I’ve seen this firsthand over the last 15 years. People who deserve the same care and respect as those with cancer or other disease are made to feel unworthy and unimportant.

In today’s world, where we know so much more about how mental illness and drug addiction affect a person, we still judge the person who has the disease. We still shame them for their “choices.” It creates an endless cycle of people who are treated poorly by society but expected to get their lives together and “fit in” like the rest of us.

So our streets are lined with homeless encampments and lost souls who have no other options. Many families aren’t able or choose not to take them in because it is a tremendous sacrifice to live with someone that has the symptoms associated with both.

Sometimes a family wants to help but can’t allow the person to live with them because it’s unsafe. We have no control over the actions of another and it’s not uncommon for someone to turn violent if they are untreated, undiagnosed, or on the wrong meds.

There are also families who turn their backs and don’t offer any help at all. Maybe they believe in “tough love” or just can’t be bothered. Maybe they are too afraid. Maybe they’ve tried and are worn out from years of living with someone who lies, steals and destroys their property.

Many families support their loved one who has one or both diseases. To say it’s “challenging” doesn’t begin to describe it. I’m aware of quite a few families who choose to allow their adult child to live with them. It can be a living hell (I lived it for years myself).

Hopefully Mental Health Awareness month will do some good. I really see little change happening and don’t know how to end this problem.

I only have one solution, which sounds simplistic, but I believe it:

It starts with us. It starts with our attitudes, our belief systems, our willingness to understand rather than ignore. Treating someone with dignity and concern may be a deciding factor in their willingness to get help.

Finding non-profits that are doing good work to find solutions, get grants, etc. is something to consider. If you have other ideas, please share your thoughts.

How do you know if a non-profit is legit check out these sites:


The BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluates an organization based on the 20 standards they define, such as governance, effectiveness, finance, demand, etc. Each standard has one point, if they get a score of 20 from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, then the organization is a good one.


Charity Navigator provides assessments based on the financial health, accountability, and transparency of nonprofit organizations. They have evaluated more than 8,000 tax-exempt charities, and if your chosen organization is not in the evaluation, you should find out why.


Charity Watch assigns a rating based on their criteria. These pages provide advice, articles, and basic information to the general public, but they also give members special access to specific charities.


GuideStar has information about nonprofit organizations, they evaluate the legitimacy of a nonprofit organization. In the organization’s financial documents, there is information about where and how they have spent the donations. It is crucial for nonprofit organizations to have these documents available to the public. If this isn’t available to you, you may need to reconsider your donation to a nonprofit.

So, make sure they are open about their finances, how they use the donation fund and how much of the remaining donation they have used for non-charity purposes. You also need to understand that a charitable organization also has administrative costs, ask them about that too. If a nonprofit claims that your donation will go fully to the needy, you may need to investigate further.


May 10, 2023

Thank you, Barbara! I so appreciated you writing about this topic. So many people dealing with this in their family. Unless you've walked in their shoes, it's impossible for someone to understand the incredibly difficult situation they are living in. It wears the family down. It depletes joy and happiness. They isolate and no longer have a life of their own, as long as their loved one is not well, neither is their family. Thank you for stressing compassion and understanding for others. That's a good place to start.


Thank you Barbara!

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