Creating an informed and inclusive dialogue is our only chance of crushing stigma , heard the NHS APA conference . DDN reports
My addiction , my mental health , the stigma that I was going through and my family was living through – it was unbearable , and the despair that was associated with it was deeply painful , but I wanted to recover … So after my detox I went to a local rehab and it gave me a space , it gave me an environment where I could start to get better and rebuild my life .
‘ But I had loads of challenges – challenges to do with my identity , challenges to do with race and racism and discrimination … I put up with a lot of abuse because – why ? Because I could . Compared to what I put up with back on the streets this was nothing . But to get it every day on top of my recovery , on top of the issues I ’ m dealing with – shame , stigma , trauma …
‘ I was not going to walk out of that treatment facility , I was going to put up with it . But that left an impression on me and I started to figure out , why is this happening if this treatment facility rehabilitation is for everybody ? Why isn ’ t it working for me ?’
Sohan Sohata is now the highly respected leader of the Alcohol Race Alliance . Twenty-five years ago it was a different story , as he explained to the NHS APA ’ s conference on tackling stigma in addiction services .
LIVED EXPERIENCE With a strong thread of lived experience right through the day ’ s event , the NHS APA urged the sector to come together to address the issue , which was contributing to the highest number of drugrelated deaths since records began . ‘ It ’ s the one of the most significant things we need to overcome and address if we are truly going to ensure that people negatively affected by addiction receive the respect , the dignity and the treatment they deserve ,’ said NHS APA chair Danny Hames .
Dame Carol Black ’ s independent drug review had highlighted the need for urgent improvement of the sector , and in a keynote speech she explained that tackling stigma was a central part of this . ‘ I really believe that if the government implemented this review it would reduce stigma ,’ she said . ‘ It would ensure that drug dependency is treated as a chronic condition , that it has parity with other chronic health conditions , that we invest in treatment and recovery , that we give back to the workforce its aspiration , invest in it , develop it .
And all of those things I believe strongly would reduce the stigma which is so relevant and prevalent when we think about drug dependency .’
It was like mental health was many years ago , and we ’ d been on a ‘ huge journey ’ there . ‘ Mental health was stigmatised , we didn ’ t talk about it and swept it under the carpet . It took a major campaign , Time to change , but it also took individuals being prepared to talk about it ,’ she said .
Talking to people who used services as part of her review , Dame Carol was left with the impression that , ‘ wherever they went they were not really treated as normal people in the health service . That came through extremely strongly that they didn ’ t feel at all that they had a voice .’
PEER SUPPORT So with that in mind , the conference invited people to talk about their experiences of stigma and the impact it had had on them . Mel Getty and Paul Lennon had been motivated to set up the Aurora Project , a peer support service in South London , to make sure others did not suffer the stigma – the feelings of worthlessness and ‘ somebody being disgusted at you ’ – that they had both experienced when accessing treatment .
‘ We always wanted to try to build into the design of Aurora that we felt there was a welcoming place ,’ said Getty . ‘ We were trying to make it feel like a home from home for everybody else in the design … the way that we welcomed people and whether people felt free to walk around the building and go and get a cup of tea or do what they needed to do and get support .’
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES Mark Holmes , now a senior drug and alcohol recovery worker at Kenward Trust , gave two different perspectives of stigma – one from when he was in active addiction and a recent one from working in the field . Working as a dancer , performing in the West End and Broadway , he was forced to retire through injury and began working in marketing and PR in the same industry – a job he enjoyed , but which introduced a drinking culture and encouraged networking with alcohol .
‘ The drinking in the evenings crept into drinking in the afternoons , secret drinking at work and a very quick spiral into unmanageability . I was unable to keep that job and I think that was probably my first experience of stigma from colleagues , peers , friends – lots of people turning their backs , lots of nasty comments . I was quite confused at the time because there was a lot of discussion on TV around addiction and a very big storyline on one of the soap operas … a lot of highprofile people in my industry were speaking up about addiction and it came across that there was a lot of understanding . That wasn ’ t my experience on the ground .’
Years later , working as a
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