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By Brooke HIlton, Dual Diagnosis Day Founder

Today May 15, 2018 is the first ever Dual Diagnosis Day! I know what you might be thinking… a) What is dual diagnosis? b) Do we really need another awareness day? and c) Why should I care?

Well, the answer, like the problem, is complex. And YES...you should care about dual diagnosis. In fact, in a recent government study, an estimated 8.2 million adults live with dual diagnosis in the United States (1). However, this study neither accounts for individuals who are homeless, the non-institutionalized population, or those who are unaware of their condition.

Although the definition of dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders is “the coexistence of both a diagnosed mental disorder and a substance use disorder (1)” I believe that we all lie somewhere along the dual diagnosis spectrum. It is such a complicated nest of illnesses that can’t be defined in such black and white terms. In fact, it’s precisely that kind of “all or nothing” thinking that prevents many individuals from ever finding true happiness or a greater sense of wellbeing.

Do we really need another awareness day?

The reason an awareness day is necessary is because very few people know what dual diagnosis is. How is one supposed to fully recover from something if they are not privy to the root cause of their condition?

In my experience, it wasn’t a DUI or a night spent in jail that made me finally want to seek a way out, it was the look in my boyfriend’s eyes when I knew he had lost all faith in my ability to ever get my life together. It was the sickness I felt in my gut when recalling how I’d spilled my best friend’s secrets to any old acquaintance that I found myself “bonding with” while staying up all night. It was these small moments that added up and begged me to take a hard look at my life, at my choices, at the person staring back at me in the mirror. I found that not only had I no respect for myself, but also, I didn’t even really like the person I saw staring back. I drank and used both in celebration of or to run from my feelings, never giving it a second thought that maybe the root cause of those feelings, is what actually what needed to be addressed.

What do you do if you may be living with dual diagnosis?

So how do you know if you may be suffering from dual diagnosis? I don’t think most people do.

If you think that you may be struggling with co-existing disorders, or if you would like to know more about the subject, there are many ways in which to get started.

In my experience, it was necessary to assess what it was about my life that I wanted to change and focused on making that happen how I saw fit. You can try something similar. There are also treatment options out there, like inpatient and outpatient treatment centers designed to cater to individuals living with dual afflictions. There are also mental health professionals, such as psychologists or counselors, self-help tools like 12 step meetings, and government funded programs that can be of service to you.

The struggle to find adequate help when suffering from dual disorders in this country is real. It took me 25 years of therapy and eight years of sobriety to properly get diagnosed and then another three years of hospitalizations, inpatient treatment, and intensive outpatient therapy in combination with the right mix of medications under the care of one of the country’s most qualified psychiatrists to finally arrive at a well-balanced solution.

Ultimately, I found that I had to completely surrender, while at the same time, never giving up on myself in order to find the gold that lay deep within. I am proud to say that recovery is possible, but for me it’s been a very personal and individual battle. A complex solution was needed for a complex set of problems.

From my perspective, the key to a happy life, no matter who you are, lies in finding balance, purpose, support, and community. What’s normal to one person may not the same for another individual. The task is not to judge your own or anyone else’s path, but to truly find the right balance that works for you.

How can I help?

In support of Mental Health Month in the U.S. and Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.K., I ask that you support the First Annual Dual Diagnosis Awareness Day by flashing the "V" sign, more commonly known as the peace sign, in support of those doubly suffering from co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder. Post the picture to your social media accounts, apply the #V4DualDiagnosis hashtag, and tag @doublewinnersclub, @trewrussellbrand and @mentalhealthamerica in the picture to spread awareness and fight stigma.

Credited to Winston Churchill, the famous double winner, we thought the "V" the perfect symbol to stand for both dual illnesses and dual recoveries. The sign indicates victoire (“victory” in French) and vrijheid (“freedom” in Dutch), and as such, it is the perfect symbol to celebrate awareness as well as recovery along the co-occurring spectrum. Dual diagnosis recovery treatment is in its nascent stages and needs your help to spread the word. Help give this movement a voice. We need YOU!

If you remember nothing else from this day, know that you matter and that your voice needs to be heard to help the millions out there suffering in silence. You can not only get better, you can be more than you were before. Whatever that means to you, go after it.

Please also consider donating to the cause for Mental Health America to continue research and to spread awareness in the future. Let’s go viral! https://www.gofundme.com/dual-diagnosis-day

Sources:

(1) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 17-5044, NSDUH Series H-52). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/

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