In addition to providing the field with expertise on substance abuse and mental health problems, the implementation of The National Guideline for Treatment of Concurrent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders will represent a challenge when it comes to changing the attitudes of health professionals towards individuals with substance abuse problems.
As is the case of several other guideline documents, this guideline also assumes that the various levels of the support system collaborate closely and flexibly, both within and between levels, in order to provide this group of clients with good services. In addition to clarifying the responsibilities of each support level, the attitudes of employees will play a major role in preventing patients with concurrent substance abuse and mental health problems falling “between two stools”.
Some may believe that substance abuse is self-inflicted and that the individual is able to choose to stop using. When an individual with a substance abuse problem seeks help from the support system, she or he might be met by such attitudes and be defined as unworthy the help, followed by the inferior and bad treatment these attitudes might imply. Despite the fact that the general attitude towards individuals who suffer from mental health disorders undoubtedly represents a challenge in our society and within the support system, many are likely to believe that mental illness is something you have been afflicted with and for which you are in need of help and support in order to heal or curb.
A diagnosis of substance abuse is a psychiatric diagnosis equal to those of for example anxiety disorders and depression. Furthermore, the clear connection – and in many instances close relation – between substance abuse disorders and other mental disorders has been thoroughly documented. In spite of this, there are many people, also within the support system, who still regard these two disorders as two separate problem areas. When beliefs such as these underlie the establishing of various treatment measures, and, not the least, when deciding which patients are «suitable» for receiving these measures, individuals with concurrent disorders may likely be at risk of not getting any help because one of their diagnosis is «wrong».
It is therefore important to point out and underline the natural connection between mental illness and substance abuse. A purposeful and powerful effort towards this perspective would contribute to preventing that individuals with concurrent disorders continue to be shuttlecocks between various departments within the support system, even after the coming guideline is available.
The Advisory Unit is to contribute to reducing stigma towards individuals with concurrent substance abuse and mental health disorders. The experience of the clients will permeate the activity of the unit and we shall collaborate closely with national user organizations. As part of this, we have established a panel of experts consisting of 12 national user organizations within the field of substance abuse and mental health disorders. This panel is to contribute and offer specific suggestions regarding the activities of the Advisory Unit.
In collaboration with various organizations we created an “advertisement film” in 2013. The film focused on the attitudes of health professionals towards individuals with concurrent substance abuse and mental health problems and has been run on TV channels TV2 and TV Norge on ad-free days in Norway.
We shall furthermore try in various ways to be visible in the public debate through means such as feature articles and chronicles.