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Weathering the storm

New York Teacher

Supporting someone with mental health challenges is complex. Adding a layer of drug and alcohol addiction makes it all the more complicated. Oftentimes, it’s hard to know what to treat first.

Self-medicating (through alcohol, drugs, sex or eating) becomes a way for people to mask the effects of their mental health issues, which then creates additional problems. A recent government survey estimates that one-half of people contending with drug or alcohol addiction also suffer from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression.

Many lives are affected. Studies show approximately 1 in 25 adults in the United States live with a serious mental illness.

You are not alone. The UFT is here to help you or your family members affected by mental illness and/or addiction build better lives through education, support and advocacy.

Here are some tips to help you support a loved one facing these challenges:

Keep lines of communication open. Encourage your loved one to talk about their experiences. Remain nonjudgmental as blame will lead to defensiveness.

Be patient. Your loved one may not be ready to use support services that open a path to recovery.

Educate yourself. There are a lot of free resources available for both you and your loved ones, including 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Set firm boundaries. Know your limits regarding what is acceptable or can be tolerated in your relationship.

Take care of yourself. Connect with people you can rely on and use support services such as the union’s Member Assistance Program and Al-Anon.

Relapse is a part of recovery. Mental illness and/or substance abuse is a lifetime journey with ebbs and flows. Commit to celebrating the wins and working through the challenges. 

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