By Katie Bellamy

Nearly half of all clients walking into addiction treatment have an underlying mental illness.

Around 40 percent, to be exact.

This equates to nearly eight million adults in the U.S., according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Studies show mental illness among minorities is even worse. Take 49-year-old, African American Chicago resident Louis for example (his name has been changed for confidentiality reasons). Louis battled addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine for 30 years. He tried addiction treatment multiple times, only to suffer from chronic relapse. At one point he was incarcerated for six years. Coming to Gateway Foundation, counselors soon realized Louis was suffering from major anxiety. He was using drugs and alcohol to rid himself from the overwhelming feelings of anxiety.

(Stock Photo)

The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health says African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. And, according to the American Psychiatric Association, depression in Blacks and Hispanics is more persistent than other populations.

Co-occurring disorders (the existence of both a mental health and substance use disorder) can develop. For some it’s genetic, others it’s environmental. Many minority populations have limited access to supportive services, or experience cultural beliefs and barriers that prevent awareness or access to treatment. In some cases, substance use disorder patients will become addicted from self medicating with drugs or alcohol in the hopes of diminishing their mental health issue, like Louis.

There is no one-size-fit-all addiction. Which is why there cannot be a one-size-fit-all addiction treatment. “We use proven, evidence-based practices and create customized treatment plans that meet each patient’s needs — with special attention to predisposed minority populations, including women, African Americans, LGBTQ and more,” says Thomas Britton, CEO of the Gateway Foundation.

It is now known that the best practice for treating co-occurring disorders is addressing mental health and substance use simultaneously. “Causes of addiction, symptoms, and effects of substance use and mental health concerns are tightly woven,” adds Britton. “More addiction facilities need to address these underlying causes, symptoms, and effects by acknowledging both powerful components.”

While in treatment, Gateway Foundation addressed Louis’ underlying issue in several ways, eventually teaching Louis how to successfully cope with his anxious thoughts and feelings. Because of these new tools, Louis is now almost three months sober; it’s one of his longest sober periods outside of jail.

There are few Illinois facilities equipped to serve the needs of diverse patients. Until this year, there was no officially certified center in Illinois to aid patients with co-occurring disorders. In March, Gateway Foundation became the first treatment center in Illinois to achieve the highest ranking for serving patients with co-occurring disorders. Rated by the Dual Diagnosis Capability in Addiction Treatment index, Gateway’s recent Dual Diagnosis Enhanced (DDE) rating is only granted to programs successfully serving those with co-occurring disorders in a fully integrated manner.

But officials at Gateway Foundation agree, treatment can’t end at a ‘rating.’

The need for connecting those in need — especially minorities — across the country to treatment resources is critical for long-term, healthy change. Maintaining long-term change and wellness requires holistic support and integrated treatment of both mental health and substance use issues. When all people are treated as whole — rather than fragmented individuals — the probability for success drastically increases.

And as Louis notes, “reclaiming your life.”

Katie Bellamy is a clinical supervisor at the Gateway Foundation in Illinois. Gateway Foundation is the largest nonprofit treatment provider in the United States, specializing in substance use disorders since 1968.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.

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