Wellbeing Wednesdays Podcast: The Ins and Outs of Stigma

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Courtney sits down with Frankie Tack, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences to discuss the topic of stigma as it relates to substance use and addiction. They chat about how stigma can create barriers for those seeking treatment, and how we can all work together to eliminate stigma. 

Courses in relation to recovery:

  • COUN 293A Recovery Allyship and Advocacy (Spring 2022)
  • HON 293P Addiction Book Study (Spring 2022)

More resources here:

Welcome everyone to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I am also the director over at well WVU here at West Virginia University. And with me today is a friend of the podcast. A repeat. Dr. Frankie Tack, who is a clinical assistant professor and she’s coordinator of the Mental Health and Addiction Studies bachelor’s degree program, and the Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences, as if that isn’t the longest explanation of a title in the history of titles.

But welcome back Frankie. And for those who are unfamiliar with you, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role here at the universe? Sure. And first of all, thanks for having me back again, Courtney. It was a blast last time and you know, I’m always looking for, for ways we can get out more information about addiction and recovery, so it’s great to be here.

Yeah, so I’m a, I’m an, a clinical assistant professor. Yeah, as you said, or the department of counseling and learning sciences? My main area is, is addiction studies. And I’ve been in working in the clinical world and the treatment of addiction and in the educational world for about 25 years. So, I’ve been doing this a long time, but it’s such important in such meaningful work and with the opioid prices.

I’m just very grateful to be in West Virginia and get to do work. For sure. And for our listeners, if Frankie’s voice sounds familiar, it also might be because she was featured on the purpose institutes launch video that Gordon president Gordon gee played at the state of the university. It was a nice surprise to see you at the end of that video.

Well, thank you. It’s it was very humbling to be asked to do it, but, but I tell you that’s one thing about careers, I think in this area, you know, people sometimes say to me, wow, addiction. Oh, that must be rough. And yeah, I mean, every profession has, has these challenges, but I don’t ever question. My purpose, you know, like how I’m spending my time each day and whether it’s worth it.

And, and that to me is just you know invaluable. Yeah. It’s a really lucky position to be in for sure. So, in the, in the realm of addiction, one of the, I don’t know if it’s a hot topic, but a very common topic that you see is this idea. Stigma. And so people have probably heard this word a lot but may not have the words to be able to describe it.

So, Frankie, how would you define stage? Sure. Well, we think of stigma as kind of a mark of shame or, or discredit. And, you know, if, if folks remember back to high school English, the Scarlet letter, you know, I think they still read that, you know, and they, the character had the big Scarlet, a for adultery on her chest.

That was a literal mark of shame and stigma. So basically. Stigmas shaming, something of someone for something. And so in our case, when we talk about addiction, we talk about shaming, someone for having an addiction for telling them it’s their fault. They’re a failure. And somehow they’re a moral and they just don’t care, which we call the moral model.

So, so stigma is putting people down for having, having a condition. Yeah for a situation and we really don’t see it just in the area of addiction. I know with my background as a sex educator, I mean, the stigma that comes with any kind of sexually transmitted infection is also really huge. And that’s why people don’t want to talk about it.

Don’t talk to their partners about it. There’s also that stigma of mental health would that, you know, sort of prevents people from. And seeking help if they need it. And so stigma can really get in the way of people leading healthy and responsible lives. So what do you think in your mind, what influences the perpetuation of stigma?

Yeah. Well, I think first and foremost, there’s a lack of education or understanding on whatever the topic is that that really drives this idea that, well, the person must just be a bad person. So instead of. Me finding out the facts and really understanding what’s happening. I just jumped to the conclusion because it hasn’t happened to me and it’s happened to them.

They must be a bad person. So, you know, I think lack of understanding the other thing, I think that, that that’s a big driver is that some people themselves have had paid. You know, emotional, physical, mental pain or whatever from a situation. And so they kind of have some baggage about the topic either that, or, you know, someone’s in, someone’s inflicted some pain on them about it, or when it comes to things, I think like sexually transmitted diseases, we’re afraid.

And so we out of our fear instead of getting educated and making good behavioral choices, so we just take the shortcut and say, well, that must have happened to them because they’re a bad person. They did something wrong, you know, they didn’t care. They’re there. They’re just a yucky skanky person. And you know, instead of really trying to understand how these, how these situations occur.

So tell us a little bit more about how stigma can create barriers to care, particularly with substance misuse. Sure. Well, you know, there’s. Different levels. And we talk about, you know, who, who perpetuates stigma. It’s really everyone from, you know just an individual who knows someone who has an addiction to family members, to community members, neighbors, and you just keep going up in terms of the size of the groups.

And, and it’s, it’s all across the board in up to and including. You know, decision makers and people who, who decide who’s going to get the money and who’s going to get what services and whatnot. And then the person themselves. So the person can have stigmatized beliefs about themselves. So if we look at all those different groups, we know that, you know, stigma can create Distancing socially.

I want to, I want to say social distancing, but right now that means something different. But in other words, we kind of Shaun or avoid, you know, people with addictions because we’re afraid of them. We don’t, we don’t, you know, we’re judging what they’re doing. So we isolate them. And that makes addiction even worse.

We know isolation help you know, sort of perpetuates a dig addiction, partly because of, of loneliness. And then this belief, well, if they’re isolating me, if they’re rejecting me, then I really must be a bad person. So it reinforces that internal stigma. And, and on the you know, in the systemic stigma level, we’ve had a real challenge with not having good.

Treatment services and funding, because if you’re, if you’re decision makers, your people who make policies and laws don’t believe that this is an issue worth intervening on from a public health standpoint. They, they just won’t put the energy and the money into. Because they think it’s the person’s fault.

They did it to themselves. Why should we as a community, put our time, effort and resources into helping them if they just wouldn’t have used this wouldn’t have happened. But, but the, the fallacy in that is that the vast majority of people who, who use drugs and alcohol don’t develop an addiction. So to say, it’s just as simple as well.

If they wouldn’t have used this wouldn’t have happened, you know, a lot of people use an enroll that dies and it doesn’t happen. So, yeah. So. There’s, there’s a lot, there’s a big flaw in that logic. Yeah, that’s for sure. I know. So I didn’t put this in our outline,…

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