At Phoenix we speak up and speak out
When it comes to addiction it seems acceptable to judge and shame ...
Karen Biggs, CEO of Phoenix Futures, a partner in the Taking Action on Addiction campaign, discuss the stigma of addiction that often is a key factor in stopping people from asking for help.
As the Chief Executive of a charity that supports people in addiction to get well I know how hard it is for people to access the help they need, when they need it.
Prejudice, discrimination, judgement and shame mean that many people end up feeling isolated, alone and ignored.
Treatment services are stretched because funding has been cut at an eye-watering rate. That is despite more people dying of drugs than ever before.
And that is even more shocking because we know how to treat addiction. Addiction is not a terminal illness, but all too often it ends the lives of mums and dads and cherished sons and daughters. Because as a society we don’t make it possible for them to get the help they need when they need it.
Addiction disproportionately impacts people in the most deprived areas. That is because contrary to what some of our media and some of our politicians imply – addiction isn’t a lifestyle choice, it's not down to laziness or moral dereliction.
Most people who come to our services have co-existing mental health problems, having experienced pain and trauma, they are self-medicating to numb that pain. They are struggling to manage thoughts and feelings in the main caused by life events out of their control. People in addiction find it harder to get the support and healthcare they need for physical and mental health conditions. That creates a spiral of worsening health and increased exclusion. The very people who need our health and social care services the most are excluded due to systemic failure and stigma.
Phoenix has for many years adopted a strategic commitment to speak out against stigma. What this means is we see it as our day job. Not someone else’s issue, not mission drift, not playing with politics but rather embedded in our day to day work to support people and families affected by addiction.
We know how stigma impacts the media portrayal of addiction and we see some politicians, decision-makers and sadly even some healthcare professionals perpetuating stigma. We see their personal belief system affecting their decision making. It can be direct or indirect, conscious, or unconscious, but always works to ‘other’ people in addiction and their families and denies them the rights afforded by the law. Let’s be clear. it denies them the healthcare and support afforded to them by law, the healthcare and support anyone one of us would want for ourselves or our loved ones.
If anyone were to disregard the underlying causes of a mental health condition they would be rightly challenged in the strongest terms. But when it comes to addiction it seems acceptable to judge and shame and when it comes to addiction to drugs it is a common narrative.
At Phoenix we speak up and speak out, we stand in solidarity with others who advocate. We do that because we know if we don’t more and more people will die of a treatable health condition. And that isn’t something we are willing to accept.
Karen Biggs, Chief Executive, Phoenix Futures
Learn more about Phoenix Futures here.