NAMI of Hennepin County Position Paper*
RE: Co-Occurring Disorders (Mental Illnesses and Substance Use Disorders)
NAMI OF HENNEPIN COUNTY BELIEVES THAT people with co-occurring disorders need and deserve access to coordinated, integrated treatment. Treatment for people with co-occurring mental health and addictive disorders should involve attention to the symptoms and challenges related to mental illness, as well as attention to the symptoms and challenges related to addiction.
NAMI OF HENNEPIN COUNTY ALSO BELIEVES THAT despite extensive research showing evidence of the effectiveness of integrated treatment models:
- Too few people with co-occurring disorders have access to effective services;
- Too often, people with co-occurring disorders are turned away from service agencies because they do not fit the profile of a “typical” client;
- When individuals are offered chemical dependency treatment and mental health services at the same time, too often there is a lack of coordination and communication between providers, and important aspects of a person’s recovery are overlooked; and
- The general public tends to underestimate the percentage of people with mental illness who also misuse alcohol, drugs, or other substances. Frequently, mind-altering substances are used to “self-medicate” the mental illness symptoms, and in other cases, a person with an addictive disorder develops severe mood or other mental health symptoms as a consequence of substance misuse. These dynamics are not well-understood by people outside of the mental health and addictions fields.
And as a result of all these factors, people with co-occurring disorders experience, unnecessarily in our opinion, too high a rate of homelessness, chronic health conditions, malnutrition, and extreme poverty.
HOWEVER, NAMI OF HENNEPIN COUNTY ALSO BELIEVES THAT people with co-occurring disorders have the right to keep their mental illnesses and substance use treatment separate, if they choose.
NAMI of HENNEPIN COUNTY RECOMMENDS THAT:
- Current services for people with mental illness or substance use disorders need to be re-oriented to be able to serve “the whole person” – especially including the ability to address mental illness and addiction at the same time, when appropriate. In fact, truly integrated treatment should take into account not only the person’s mental health and addiction diagnoses, but also the physical well-being, financial status, etc., i.e., “the whole person.”
- Current providers of mental health and addictions services need to provide education regarding integrated models of treatment (for co-occurring disorders) to all members of their treatment team.
- Providers should not be allowed to turn a person away from services solely on the basis of a co-occurring disorder.
- Overall, more funding needs to be available for proven models of care for people with co-occurring disorders, and programs currently providing effective integrated treatment should receive increased funding.
- Services for co-occurring disorders should recognize that each individual struggling with co-occurring disorders will have their own perspective on needing to change, and service providers need to exercise a flexible, “meet clients where they are at,” approach.
- Mental health and addictions advocates should promote public awareness about the prevalence of co-occurring disorders and integrated treatment models.
- Peer support groups specifically for individuals with co-occurring disorders should be encouraged and promoted.
* This Position Paper represents the opinions of the Board of Directors of NAMI of Hennepin County, and only the opinions of the Board of Directors of NAMI of Hennepin County. This Position Paper was adopted by the Board of Directors of NAMI of Hennepin County on June 8, 2015, and is subject to revision by the Board of Directors of NAMI of Hennepin County. This Position Paper represents the opinions of NAMI of Hennepin County with respect to broad public policy, and is not intended as, and should not be relied upon, as advice or guidance to any specific individual, in any specific situation, at any specific time or place.