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Mental Health Awareness Week – why kindness is key to addiction recovery

Posted by Martin Preston
on 18 May 2020

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week has had a hasty and astute theme change to ‘kindness’.

The shift, from an original intended theme of ‘sleep,’ came in response to the strange, worrying and traumatic times we are currently in with the coronavirus crisis.

The shift makes the week, which is always highly relevant in addiction treatment, even more so. Both mental health and kindness are key factors in addiction recovery.

A demonstration of kindness and compassion toward anyone suffering addiction issues can be crucial in helping them to find the courage to get help. A continuation of that kindness and compassion in treatment is vital. Finding a sense of kindness and compassion for ourselves helps us to achieve recovery. And beginning to pass on that kindness by helping others with similar problems is very often a key to maintaining recovery.

There is much evidence that mental health issues (including stress, anxiety and depression) are very often present for anyone in the grip of addiction. Drinking and drug taking also often cause and exacerbate mental health issues. It’s a bitter and vicious circle.

Condensation heart drawn on a window

What the Mental Health Foundation says about drinking, addiction and mental health 

Mental Health Awareness Week is run by the Mental Health Foundation to draw attention to mental health, encourage investment into addressing it and to highlight the support available to those who need it.

The foundation published the ‘Tackling social inequalities to reduce mental health problems’ report earlier this year. It held some important insights into the correlation between mental health and alcohol and drug abuse.

The report said: “The evidence from numerous studies is that there is a strong association between substance misuse (including alcohol misuse) and both mood and anxiety disorders.

“Alcohol dependence is roughly three times more likely amongst those experiencing depression and excessive drinking increases the chance of developing depression.

“Using some illicit drugs may also increase the risk of developing a mental health problem.

“For example, regular cannabis use in adolescence increases the risk of developing psychosis and illicit drug use has been associated with increased risk of depression.”

Adversity in childhood is directly responsible for 29.8% of adult mental health problems, with

evidence showing that the more severe and prolonged the exposure to adversity, the greater the risk of developing a mental health problem, the report said.

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One of the primary ‘Adverse Childhood Experience’ identified in the report as being ‘typical’ is being in a household with mental illness, alcohol or substance misuse.

In the UK, more than 250,000 dependent children are living with a parent who has used a Class A illicit drug in the past year, and 3.4 million are living with at least one binge-drinking parent.

The report discusses how stigma – problems of knowledge (ignorance), attitude (prejudice) and behaviour (discrimination) – can hinder recovery from mental health issues. 

The same is true of alcoholism, drug dependency and other addictions. People tend already to feel a huge amount of guilt, regret, remorse, shame and lack of self worth over addiction. Stigma adds to those feelings. Kindness helps to ease them.

Why acts of kindness matter in addiction prevention and recovery

Our clinical director Mike Delaney, who is a very experienced therapist and has been in recovery for many years himself from drink and drug dependency, has experienced  first-hand how important and powerful kindness is in current times.

Mike contracted coronavirus on a trip to Barnados before lock-down began and was admitted to hospital there. When he left hospital with nowhere to stay until a flight home was possible, there were more than 100 offers of free accommodation for him from people who had heard of his plight.

He has said the whole experience has been a reminder to him of how powerful gratitude is in life and recovery and kindness is another key tenet.

The final step of the traditional 12-steps approach, synonymous with Alcoholics Anonymous, is: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” 

woman looking out of a window with depression

It’s about using your experience to help others, showing kindness and altruism toward others who are suffering and giving them a hand up.

Our health advisory board member, workplace wellness expert Professor Sir Cary Cooper, has also told us recently how vital it is, now more than ever, that managers have substantial emotional intelligence and show kindness and compassion towards staff. This will go some way toward protecting their employees, and their businesses, from the increased potential of mental health issues that the COVID-19 outbreak is leading to.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, has said: “Kindness unlocks our shared humanity and is central for our mental health. It has the potential to bring us together with benefits for everyone, particularly at times of great stress.”

To reduce the likelihood of employees, colleagues, friends and loved ones seeking solace, escape and a coping mechanism in alcohol, drugs and addiction we can all help by being as kind, compassionate and supportive as possible.

If someone does develop an addiction issue we can help by being showing empathy, understanding and kindness towards them. Even if we have to take measures to distance and protect ourselves from the chaos of their addiction we can do so in a kind way, letting them know we love them, are aware they need help and that we want to see them recover.

If we face addiction ourselves, we can help ourselves to find a way to recovery by showing some of that kindness inwardly. Yes, during your addiction you are likely to have acted in ways that cause you shame and regret, but that does not mean you do not deserve to get help and to get well. You are worthy of a different future.  

Finding support with mental health issues and addiction

The Mental Health Foundation has produced a package of guides to support people struggling with mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, including ‘mental health tips’, ‘change, loss and bereavement’ and ‘parenting during the coronavirus outbreak’.

The Foundation’s guide ‘Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak’ nods toward the current danger that people may see their negative habits, such as drinking or smoking, increase.

If you are drink or drug dependent and need help, Delamere remains open and operating throughout this crisis. We are here to help you. Get in touch.

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin created Delamere in order to provide exemplary care in first class facilities. Find out more about Martin on our team page.

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