Fighting substance use and mental health stigma: 5 questions for recovery advocate Lauren Davis

Earlier this year in our series featuring community voices on overdose prevention, we highlighted personal stories about how substance use impacts individuals, families, and communities. Next Wednesday, November 8th, communities have a powerful opportunity to start a conversation about substance use and mental health with friends, neighbors, and lawmakers and celebrate the journeys of those in recovery from addiction and mental health conditions at the King County Behavioral Health Legislative Forum.

Hear more from Lauren Davis and learn more about fighting stigma at the Behavioral Health Legislative Forum on November 8.

We caught up with featured speaker Lauren Davis, Executive Director of the Washington Recovery Alliance, to learn more about how communities can advocate for substance use and mental health care, fight stigma, and celebrate recovery.


Q. We’re hearing a lot about the opioid and prescription drug crisis lately. What is substance use and mental health stigma, and what role does it play?

Substance use and mental health stigma is prejudice or discrimination against individuals in active addiction or recovery from substance use disorder, individuals with mental health conditions, and families impacted by these diseases. Stigma manifests in many ways, from the way individuals feel about themselves, to how our society at large sees them, to the way our systems treat people with substance use or mental health conditions.

Stigma makes it more difficult for people to access services and get help. For example, individuals with behavioral health conditions may see themselves as “bad,” rather than sick, and may carry shame and guilt associated with their disease that prevents them from seeking support. At the system level, stigma creates barriers to access to housing and employment, and impacts how professionals such as health care providers and law enforcement treat people with substance use or mental health conditions.

Q. How can reducing stigma help save lives?

When we change how individuals, communities, and systems see and treat people with substance use or mental health conditions, we make it easier to find help and maintain hope that recovery is possible. The primary reason that people do not seek treatment is because they have either lost hope that they’ll ever find the miracle of recovery or because they don’t believe they’re worth saving.

Reducing stigma, in all its forms, has been demonstrated to increase help-seeking behavior among individuals living with substance use disorder or mental health conditions. It also removes the isolation that impacted families experience.

Q. What can communities do to reduce stigma and support people who are recovering from substance use or dealing with mental health conditions?

You can share with your friends, family, and community how substance use and mental health impact your life or your loved ones. The best way to erode stigma is for a person to realize that someone in their circle has been impacted. Putting a face and name to a disorder changes everything.

Communities have the opportunity to put this in action next week at the King County Behavioral Health Legislative Forum. This free event provides an opportunity to meet directly with lawmakers to let them know your opinion on mental health and addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery. It also includes hopeful stories from individuals in recovery, as well as King County’s behavioral health policy priorities at the state and federal level.

For those who can arrive early, there is a free event called Recovery in Action starting at 4:00 at the same location. This pre-function includes multiple interactive booths in which participants can directly combat stigma, coupled with free food and free T-shirts for all participants.

Q. What would a community without substance use and mental health stigma look like?

A community without stigma is a community where recovery is ubiquitous—where every individual or family battling these afflictions feels loved, valued, and cherished no matter in what stage of the disease they find themselves. It looks like a greeting card section for recovery anniversaries. It looks like a parade of cards and visitors that greet a person in inpatient addiction or mental health treatment, so that no one ever feels alone in this fight. It looks like drug court graduations that are packed with just as many family and friends as high school and college graduations. It looks like a mother boasting of her son’s years in recovery in their family’s annual holiday card. It looks like major athletic teams hosting recovery nights to honor and celebrate those who are in addiction recovery or battling mental health conditions.

It looks like a world where recovery from addiction or a mental health condition isn’t just possible, it is expected.

Attend the forum to hear more and celebrate recovery with friends, neighbors, and lawmakers!

Attend the 2017 Behavioral Health Legislative Forum on November 8 to hear more from Lauren and others working to build a community where every person impacted by mental health conditions or substance use has the support they need.

2017 Behavioral Health Legislative Forum
Wednesday, November 8, 6:00-8:30 p.m, Recovery in Action event begins at 4:00
Seattle Center Exhibition Hall – 301 Mercer St, Seattle
Click here to register.

More opportunities to be involved

At the Washington Recovery Alliance, recovery from substance use disorders and mental health conditions is a year-long celebration. Several upcoming free events are open to the public:


  • December 2: Elevate Recovery Advocacy Training, Everett
  • December 9: Screening of the documentary The Anonymous People, about the recovery advocacy movement and the 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction
  • January TBD: Elevate Recovery Advocacy Training, South King County

Interested individuals can contact Lauren Davis for more information on these events at

One thought on “Fighting substance use and mental health stigma: 5 questions for recovery advocate Lauren Davis

  1. I also think that stigma has a huge impact on the way people act and react to things. It is sad that the people who merely need help are viewed as weak and perhaps even gross by outsiders, all because there is a negative stigma around what they are doing.

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