Addiction is a chronic brain disease, that, like many illnesses, has both a genetic and environmental component. In fact, genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood someone will develop an addiction, while environmental factors affect how much influence those genetic factors will have.

Yes, the initial decision to take drugs or that first sip of alcohol is voluntary for most people — but after that, brain changes occur over time, making it harder for someone already susceptible to addiction to resist the urge to take a drug. Co-occurring disorders are also extremely common — about a third of all people living with mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.

But people who have addictions are often shamed, as if they just don’t have the willpower to turn their addiction off. In reality, addictions are complicated, misunderstood and aren’t reserved for people who just lack self-control.

To learn more, we asked people in our community who have struggled with addiction to tell us one thing they wish others understood.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Stop being shocked that I’m an alcoholic. Anyone can fall victim to this terrible addiction. With help, we can overcome. We’re not evil, we’re sick.”


2. “I worked very hard to get sober. I’m not going back. So please stop cringing every time someone mentions my substance of choice around me. We don’t all need to go quiet and look at the floor because someone is getting high in a movie. I have eight years of
sobriety under my belt, the mere mention of use does not bother me and certainly isn’t going to turn me into a crazed maniac searching for my next ‘fix.'”

3. “We are not our disease. We are people who bleed red blood, too. We are valuable.”


4. “What we want most in life is to feel good about ourselves.”

5. “Just because I’m in recovery, doesn’t mean that every time I go to the doctor I’m drug seeking.”

6. “It can happen to anybody.”

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7. “I hate how people consider you scum because of it. It’s bad enough being addicted to something. Then when you work on your recovery, and people never look at you the same.”

8. “Addiction can be more complicated than getting high. It can be about self-medicating due to undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. If you really want to help someone with an addiction, don’t pass judgment. Find out why.”


9. “Don’t bring up the past of a person who is trying to improve their future.”

10. “If you’ve never been there, you will never completely understand.”

11. “It’s hard to recover if you don’t work on your relationship with yourself, too.”

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.


If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a mental illness, the Internet has a few words for you. Twitter users are using the hashtag #IfJustDiagnosed to send messages of hope to people who have just been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Mental health advocate Rachel Griffin started the hashtag using her popular Twitter account, I’m Not Ashamed.

“A diagnosis can be quite a relief to get, because you realize what’s been going on with you has a name, others have struggled with it and that there are treatment options,” Griffin told The Mighty. “But I want people to know that a diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re not yourself anymore. It doesn’t mean the future is bleak. It doesn’t mean you’re damaged, defective or that something is inherently wrong with you.”

She hopes the hashtag will help connect people who’ve been recently diagnosed with a mental illness to their online community.

“I thought it would be a nice way for those who have recovered to say to those who are struggling what they wish they’d heard when they were first diagnosed,” Griffin said.

Here’s more from #IfJustDiagnosed:

What would you to say to someone who was recently diagnosed with a mental illness? Join the online movement, or tell us in the comments below.

You think because you raised me you know me. This isn’t necessarily true. I’d like to use this time to let you see the real me. It will help you gain a better understanding of why I’m so different than others. Hopefully this will explain my behavior to you.

I know you wish things were different, but that will never, ever be the case. You have to accept I think differently than you do. Part of this will make sense to you. Part of it won’t. Some of this will sound like excuses for my behavior. Know that my so-called “excuses” are based on my life living with a mental illness.

You have your own goals for me. Going to school, working, getting married, having a family. These are your goals for me and not the goals I have for myself. Please don’t compare me to my sibling. My goals are simple: take meds, shower, go to therapy. Even those simple tasks are sometimes too much. You might think I have a behavior problem. I don’t — I have a brain problem. I have chemicals in my brain that don’t fire correctly. These faulty chemical imbalances is part of what caused my mental illness.

If I was born with a different brain, my life would be different. But having a different brain is not an option. There are short periods when I feel “normal.” But most of the time my brain makes me anxious, paranoid, moody and causes me to procrastinate.

I know I have caused so much destruction in our relationship. Often when I push you away, those are the moments I need you most. Please don’t give up on me. I don’t need you to solve my problems. Just help me find the help I need. If I tell you I want to start seeing a therapist, help me find one right away.  Even something as simple as calling to get a doctor’s appointment can feel overwhelming to me.

Looking back, I may have showed signs of my mental illness when I was younger. When my illness started as a child, I knew I was different from everyone else. While I recognized the demons early on, I lacked the vocabulary to tell anyone. Like all kids, when I was young I used to think there were monsters under my bed.

But the monsters weren’t under my bed. They were inside of my brain. Mental illness affects everything in my life. It’s an everyday battle to fight with the demons in my brain. It takes a lot of energy to do basic things you take for granted.

You have seen my behavior change so much. I know it’s confusing and hard to
understand. Medication helps with the worst of my illness, but it doesn’t cure me.
But then there are side effects. Terrible side effects that can change the way our bodies function. If I start a new medication and gain weight or can’t get out of bed, it’s not my fault. Please don’t be hard on me. I’m just trying to find the right combination of medicine to help me live my best life. Putting up with medication side effects is part of my “job” having a mental illness.

I’m sure you are frustrated with my moods and behavior. But when you yell at me, you feed my illness. My brain has to expend extra energy fighting with you. I start to look at myself as a burden and a failure. Unfortunately, my mental illness is more dependable than anything else in my life. It is always there. It always will be there.

There are a few things you (and other parents) can do if you want to help me:

1. Find out if there is a history of mental illness in our family. This will greatly help my doctors diagnose and treat me.

2. As long as I’m OK with it, please be open about my illness. When you tell others that I’m OK, or that I’m “just tired,” it feels like you are ashamed of me. Having a mental illness, I belong to a club that no one wants to be a member of.

3. Support me as much as you can. When most people turn 18, their parents’ job
is done. More than likely, I will need to be parented well past 18. Any extra help you can give me would be great.

4. Find support for yourselves. There may not be a support group for families nearby, but there are many support pages on social media.

5. Most importantly, never stop learning about my condition. Read as much as you can about my illness, treatment, types of therapy and other ways to help me.

I hope that you will eventually see that I’m just trying to survive my illness. Hopefully this letter gives you some perspective into my life. Please accept me for the person I am.


Your child with a mental illness

This is for anyone who has been changed by a traumatic event. You find yourself wishing you could be the person you were before and your friends and family expect you to be the person you were before.

But sometimes, what doesn’t kill you does not make you stronger.

Sometimes what doesn’t kill you cripples you; you hobble, unable to put one foot in front of the other. You trip and stumble. There is no confidence in your stride.

What doesn’t kill you maims you; there is a piece of you that is missing. You feel empty and hollowed out.

What doesn’t kill you wounds you; it is a wound that does not heal. It stays open and weeping. It is red and angry and sore.

What doesn’t kill you pierces your armor; leaving you defenseless and vulnerable to the next attack. You withdraw and retreat to protect yourself.

You are not the same person as before.

You are strong — but not stronger.

Eventually, the broken pieces are repaired. You must become motionless for the healing to begin.

The empty spaces regenerate, once hollow they become filled. Love, forgiveness, understanding and gratitude replace the vacuum.

A scab forms over the wound. It becomes thicker over time. When the scab falls off there is a scar. Shiny pink skin is revealed. It looks fragile but it is tough and resilient.

The damaged armor is left as is. You understand things differently now. There is no defense against what life throws in your path. You remain vulnerable but you bolster your weakened armor with friendships and love.

You are forever changed. You are not stronger, but you are strong enough.

Although we try to promote positivity here at The Mighty, every once in a while, it’s OK to get mad. Mad that you have a mental illness. Mad that it’s frustrating working the system that’s supposed to treat your mental illness. Mad that life can sometimes be a little unfair, and mad because you don’t always have to be 100 percent happy with all the cards you were dealt.

So in the name of healthy venting, we asked our mental health community to share one angry message about living with a mental illness.

Here’s what they had to say: 

1. “I want to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see instead of being angry and scared. All I feel is this overwhelming feeling of my life falling apart. I don’t want to struggle every day just to survive. I want my life back.”

2. “I want a life without mental illness period. I want to know what it’s like to not have these extreme emotional highs and lows. I don’t want to have extreme anxiety attacks. I want to love without all of the fears and anxieties I have.”

3. “I would say, ‘Stop lying to me all the time, telling me I’m not good enough, that I will always feel this way or that I’m better off dead.’ I am so tired of fighting all the time, and it makes so angry I have to work so hard to simply survive.”

4. “For the sake of my son, just leave me alone for a second of my life! Let me sleep, let me feel happy, let me be in the moment, stop controlling every cell in my body when all I want is to be me without you.”

5. “When I’m angry, I want to tell my depression and anxiety you are a part of my life because mental illness is something I can’t control. You don’t define who I am nor do you take my beauty or strength away. You try so hard to break me. But guess what? You haven’t won because I’m still here fighting. I’ve learned to accept you and despite it all, I’m learning to live with you. You’re the cross I’m willing to bear because I chose to live.”

6. “I had to think about this for a moment. At first I wanted to express how angry I am at the fact that I have to work extra hard to live in my world. Now, I’m on a journey to find my sense of self to regain my personal power, and it’s an amazing journey! I’m going to reclaim my life. My disorders don’t define me, they explain me!”

7. “I tell it to crawl back into the hole it came from. I don’t have time for my anxiety, anger or depression today; my kids need me, I need me. I understand that yes, I will live with it forever and yes it will rear its ugly head again, but not today. Sometimes it helps, other days it doesn’t.”

8. “There have been many times I want to go out and be sociable with others but it’s like my anxiety won’t allow it. I feel like I am missing out on so many things. Then, my depression kicks in and I just want to stay in the house and be by myself. It’s weird I know, but the ups and downs are something that I have to deal with.”

9. “I wish I could have just a break from it. I wish I could have had a normal college experience. I want to not have to be on disability at the age of 21. I want to be able to work full-time and still have energy to do things with friends on the weekends instead of spending weekends in bed. I want a life with no nightmares, anxiety attacks or suicidal thoughts.”

10. “You’ve taken me to the lowest point in my life and have made me doubt myself more than I ever have. I’m exhausted and I’m overwhelmed by all the different negative emotions you make me go through. Why can’t I just have a day of peace?”

11. “I want to be strong enough to give more without having it deplete everything I have left. I want to feel normal feelings; I just want to be.”

12. “I am way too tired from a lifetime of struggle. My own worst enemy was hiding in my head all along!”

13. “I want my life back. I want sunshine again. I want to know who I am, to regain any confidence I might have once had. I want the scars to disappear, and the nightmares to end. If I ever find a way to destroy you, I will.”

14. “Dear Bipolar Brain: I have, X Y and Z that needs to be accomplished today, so either be helpful and productive, or take a vacation.”

15. “I want to tell my depression and anxiety I cannot let it control my life.”

16. “I’m over you being here. Kindly leave. You have way overstayed your welcome. Take your sadness, hurt and despair with you. I’m tired of you taking up space in my hear.”

18. “You have robbed me of job opportunities, friendships, goals and control. I really hate you and you will not win!”

19. “Stop killing my friends and trying to kill me.”

20. “What do I say to my mental illness? I say: ‘I know you are not me. You are a part of me, and a smaller part than you want to admit. I will come out of this as I have before, you have me down, but you will not get me out. The greater part of me will succeed because you’ve never been able to kill me.’”

21. “I wish I could tell my anxiety to go take a hike.”

22. “I will not be defined by you. I will not be a statistic. I may have you but you do not have me.”

23. “There is a resilience inside of me you have never touched. Bam! I’m still here in spite of you.”

Vent over. Now take that fire, and put it to good use. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Recently, it seems like “mental health” is being talked about more and more. This is great, and the results are palpable — this year, the Anxiety and Depression Association of American found college-aged adults (age 18–25) have more accepting views of mental health care than other adults. A majority of college-aged adults view seeing a mental health professional as a sign of strength.

But when we talk about mental illness, we’re talking about a whole range of conditions and communities that face a whole range of needs. So now that we’ve all established mental health as something we should talk about, where do we go from there? And more important, what do we do?

To get the conversation started, we asked our Mighty community to tell us one thing about mental illness they feel still isn’t being addressed.

Let’s talk about it:

1. “Mental illness is not only what’s portrayed in the media. Obsessive compulsive disorder is not just being organized and washing your hands a lot. It’s hard to choose just one thing to highlight because so much of mental illness is never talked about and what is talked about is often portrayed in a very stigmatizing way.”

text: Mental illness is not only what's portrayed in the media.

2. “There’s a positive side to the illnesses. They totally suck, but my depression gave me empathy, my anxiety got me to be more organized, being suicidal taught me how to appreciate every moment I almost didn’t have.”

3. “The fact that mental illness can be debilitating. To the point of not being able to work.”

4. “Strength… mental illness is not a weakness.”

5. “No one ever talks about urges to hurt oneself or suicidal thoughts. If you try to bring it up, others push it away.”

6. “The guilt. For letting people down, for being such a burden and annoyance, for not being productive… the list is never-ending and overwhelming. The guilt is a constant for me.”

7. “No one wants to talk about how unrelenting it can be. How simple tasks can feel like climbing a mountain.”

Text: No one wants to talk about how unrelenting it can be. How simple tasks can feel like climbing a mountain.

8. “Many people don’t talk about the physical toll it can take on someone’s body. Anxiety makes me nauseous, and depression gives me headaches.”

9. “The fact that there might not be a cause or ‘trigger.’ When I have a drop in health everyone wants to know what caused it. Few people want to consider it as something that just happens, in the same way one’s physical health can ‘drop.’”

10. “You never hear about the fact that there isn’t a break. People who have mental illness and their loved ones are always in one of two states: either working through a low point or trying to arrange their lives to minimize the trauma of the next impending one.”

11. “No one ever talks about the sociopolitical oppression that people with mental illness experience. People with mental illness face discrimination, micro-aggressions, abuse — everything other non-privileged minority groups experience. There is rarely a dialogue about mental illness oppression, which is one of the most harmful things to a person with mental illness.”

12. “No one wants to talk about the intrusive thoughts due to the shame and fear. We need to talk about them so we don’t keep them bottled up.”

13. “How broken the mental health system is. How poorly people with mental illness are treated in places like the ER when they are in a crisis. How people with severe mental illness are viewed as ‘frequent flyers’ who just want attention when they really need help.”

Text: How broken the mental health system is.

14. “There’s this expectation that your mental health should be sacrificed to meet the duties and demands of everyday life. I feel it the most in higher education. I go to a school that only trains psychologists, yet we have no counseling center and even the professors admit we are pushed to and beyond our limit.”

15. “The loneliness.”

16. “I think people don’t talk about self-injury enough. And people don’t understand the reasons for it. It’s not always about suicide or wanting to hurt yourself.”

17. “For some people it doesn’t get better or easier. I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for 20 or so years, and it actually has gotten harder. I know it’s important to promote positivity with depression, but for people like me it just provokes frustration. Mental illness isn’t a one size fits all.”

18. “I feel like no one ever wants to talk about steps to recovery… It’s like taking a test without ever learning the material.”

text: I feel like no one ever wants to talk about steps to recovery... It's like taking a test without ever learning the material.

19. “No one talks about how much you have to sacrifice to be normal. Everyone thinks I have it all together, but it’s only because I work so hard at maintaining my mental health. I have to stick to a routine so strict, it’s like I’m an adult who has to manage a child, but the child is inside me.”

20. “What hospitalization is really like.”

21. “Rarely do I hear of read about the lack of resources and qualified mental health professionals. How difficult it is to find a psychiatrist or therapist. No one seems to talk about just how expensive treatment can be. Treatment is being recommended in the media, I’m told help is out there, but it’s taking a lot of energy to find — energy I don’t have.”

22. “Mental illness is more than depression or anxiety. It can mean loss of social networks, loss of income and loss of respect from your peers. Most of all, it means not being sure of what you can accomplish.”

23. “Knowing you need help, but also knowing you can’t afford it.”

text: Knowing you need help, but also knowing you can't afford it.

24. “I feel like no one talks about the suicidal thoughts. A lot of people have them. I have them. It doesn’t always mean I need to be hospitalized or we need to call an ambulance — but I do wish I could talk about it. It’s so taboo. You can have ideation without having a plan. It’s part of depression. And we need to talk about it.”

25. “I feel like no one really talks about what it’s like living with someone who has a serious mental illness. I feel like it’s taboo to talk about how scary it is when a relative becomes violent during a mental health crisis.”

26. “The treatment disparity. Not everyone with mental illness has access to the proper treatment. Good therapists and psychiatrists are hard to find. As more and more therapists move towards self-pay and not accepting insurance, more and more people can’t access the care they need. Without treatment, good quality treatment, living with a mental illness can be even harder.”

27. “People with mental illness can still function — hold steady jobs, care for children or loved ones, develop meaningful relationships, have hobbies and passions — all while still battling a very real and serious fight. They aren’t automatically unreliable, unstable or incapable of accomplishing things just because they have mental illness.”

28. “How isolating it can be — not only for the person with mental illness but for the entire family.”

Text: How isolating it can be

29. “That doctors will sometimes blame other symptoms on mental illness and not take you seriously. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis only after I pushed back and said it wasn’t anxiety related to bipolar — something was wrong. And hell, I was right.”

30. “How it impacts your sex life.”

31. “How to help a person with no insight into their condition.”

32. “Nobody talks about the fact that mental illness is just like any other chronic physical diagnosis. It can be managed, there will be episodes and there will be good days, but it never goes away.”

33. “The part where it exists.”

text: The part where it exists.

*Answers have been edited and shortened.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.