Taking Addiction Awareness to the street

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

About 50 people showed up to the first annual addictions walk organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), yesterday afternoon to show support and fight the stigma around addiction.

National Addiction Awareness Week is Nov. 21 to 27, and this year’s theme is “Driving Change Together.”

Pauline Hyatt, director of services at CMHA, said the idea behind National Addictions Awareness Week is to highlight resources, research, and work that’s being done across the country to fight stigma, and to reduce harms from problematic substance use.

“We’re putting the person first, not the addiction,” Hyatt said. “We want to highlight resources, research and work being done across the country to fight stigma or reduce harms from problematic substance use.”

Community partners include the Canadian Mental Health Association-Fort Frances Branch, Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services, Riverside Health Care, Northwestern Health Unit, Rainy River District Social Services Board, and the United Native Friendship Centre.

The walk started at La Verendrye Hospital and ended at Fort Frances Tribal Health Services where hot chocolate was served. During the walk, 75 swag bags were handed out to participants and other walkers. The bags included literature on addiction, nutritional items, where services are available, hats, mitts and socks.

“We put things that people might need,” Hyatt said. “These were donations from our community partners. Everybody chipped in. We just put things that we thought people would find of value in there.”

An important factor to consider is how mental health and addictions are linked and impact one another, Hyatt said, adding that a mental health issue, in conjunction with addiction or substance use is known as a concurrent disorder.

Hyatt adds that while it is difficult to obtain an accurate statistic of people living with concurrent disorders, research shows that more than 50 per cent of those who are seeking help for an addiction also have a mental illness, according to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health.

Another misconception this week aims to tackle is fighting the stigma and the negative judgement of people who use substances.

“People don’t always understand what addiction is, and who might have an addiction. It could be a family member, it could be your neighbour,” Hyatt said. “This is really meant to just reach out to everybody to say, we’re all here. We’re all connecting, and we all want to help.”

There are several impacts of stigma and discrimination, Hyatt explained. This could include the loss of self-esteem, a fear of seeking treatment, or feelings of isolation. Often people with concurrent disorders may experience multiple, intersecting layers of discrimination as they are living with both addiction and mental health issues,” Hyatt added.

“There is still much to learn about the complexities of substance use and addiction, however, research has indicated that nobody chooses to become addicted, and that it is not due to a moral failing or weakness with an individual,” she said.

Given this is the first walk of its nature, Hyatt said they are just trying to shed some light on understanding what addiction is, and where to get help.