March 30, 2022
Mental health has always been a passion for me because I want to help people adapt and overcome the barriers to success that life throws our way. A number of my family members have experienced substance use disorder, so that particular barrier became personal for me.
I have my Masters Degree in Counseling and have been with Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition for two years. What I’ve learned over the years is that people don’t anticipate being on that path, and it comes about for a variety of reasons.
Working in substance use prevention means I’m helping people, especially younger folks, find a path to success. The work we do is based on preventative factors, both through education and other initiatives.
We are very worried about the mental health of our young people, especially coming out of the pandemic. There are many unhealthy habits younger people pick up, and so we work to bring awareness to those unhealthy habits and provide opportunities for education.
We want to start the conversion early, because it’s all about building those protective factors and reducing those risks. Our research shows that when parents talk to their kids about substance use and actively discourage it, it can have a significant impact on their children.
People may hesitate to discuss some topics or think they shouldn’t say anything because their kids are too young, but kids are thinking about this stuff. Even if you don’t think they are listening, they are. Connection and understanding is key.
We want to get the word out so that our communities and especially our young people know how serious substance use disorder is and to educate them on ways that they can lead healthy lives. Plus, the more people that get involved in our initiatives and efforts, the larger of an impact we can create.
Unfortunately, there is still so much stigma around substance use disorder. About 10 or so years ago, our country experienced the first opioid crisis, and during that time the stigma was brutal. There was very little support for people to get treatment for opioid misuse and barely any support for alcohol treatment. This stigma is highly problematic for recovery efforts, because it makes those going through substance use disorder feel so isolated.
Truthfully, being in this line of work hasn’t always been something I felt I could take pride in, solely because of how society deemed those with substance use disorder. When I would step up in front of a group of people to ask for program assistance, there were so many individuals who had negative things to say about individuals experiencing substance use disorder.
I didn’t let their words stop me from helping people. Over the years, the stigma has definitely lessened, but there is still a lot of work to do. I take such pride in helping others and I am so proud of our communities.
— Cheri Sullivan, Director of Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition and an Active Member of the Red Ribbon Committee