For nearly 70 years, numerous organizations throughout the country have observed May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to spend the month raising awareness and reminding people that mental health issues are something we should all care about. Texans Standing Tall wanted to take a minute to “go green” (the color for mental health) and talk about the relationship between mental health and the substance use prevention community.
As many people may know, substance use disorders are considered a mental illness; they change normal behaviors and can interfere with a person’s ability to go to work, go to school, and have good relationships with others. According to SAMHSA, nearly 44 million Americans over age 18 have experienced some form of mental illness, and more than 20 million have had a substance use disorder. Nearly 8 million of those individuals have had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring disorders.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that, all other factors being equal, substance use rates among individuals with mental illness are higher than use rates among the overall population. Specifically, mental illness increases use rates by 20% for alcohol, 27% for cocaine, and 86% for cigarettes. Further, their research states that “there is a definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances,” revealing that individuals with an existing mental illness consume 38% of all alcohol, 44% of all cocaine, and 40% of all cigarettes. Beyond that, individuals who have ever experienced mental illness consume about 69% of all alcohol, 84% of all cocaine, and 68% of all cigarettes.
Interestingly, the NBER points to price increases as a way to reduce use among this high-consuming group. And, in a way, this brings us full circle to our work in the prevention community. At TST, we have an ongoing focus on environmental prevention strategies. For example, we advocate for raising alcohol excise taxes since they haven’t been raised in Texas since 1984, but a dime a drink increase would be an effective way to improve public health and safety in our state. Such strategies allow us to create change that not only prevents youth substance use, but also helps prevent other physical, mental, and social health issues that can occur alongside or as a result of substance use. Conversely, by taking an interest in addressing mental health issues early on, we may also be able to prevent substance use issues that can occur downstream.
While it is often easy to operate within the prevention field alone, it’s important to remember that the more we can work with others – both inside and outside of prevention – the more we can do to make a huge difference in people’s lives. Our challenge to you is to keep building new relationships (and let us know about your successes when you do)! And in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, reach out to a mental health ally to learn more about the work they do and how you can support each other in your efforts to create safe and healthy communities for everyone.
If you’d like to learn more about TST’s work related to mental health issues, contact our Peer Policy Fellow, Sachin Kamble, at 512.442.7501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.