What role do PR and communications professionals play in breaking down the stigma of substance use disorder? Lauren Lawson-Zilai, Senior Director of Media and Public Relations for Shatterproof, explains that communicators can play an important role by utilizing people-first language and showcasing stories that highlight empathy with their clients. Lauren also shares what employees can do to help their colleagues who may be struggling with substance use disorder. For additional resources, go to: https://www.shatterproof.org/find-help
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HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: LAUREN LAWSON-ZILAI
DOUG: Can you start by sharing sort of the top line of what Shatterproof’s mission is?
LAUREN: So, Shatterproof is a national, nonprofit organization. We are close to ten years in existence. And we focus on reversing the addiction crisis, which is a public health crisis right now. And we do that by transforming addiction treatment, by focusing on legislation, by wanting to stop and end the shame and stigma around addiction and educating and empowering communities. Our philosophy is really simple, we do not want another person to die from a treatable and preventable illness, and there are 40 million Americans living with a substance use disorder right now.
DOUG: And you feel that PR, communicators have an important role to play and need to speak about mental health issues differently.
LAUREN: PR and marketing professionals have a huge role to play. One is that language matters, words can really destroy or uplift a person. You often see mental health or substance use disorder characterized as a flaw, which it is not. People stigmatize it or discriminate against someone. There is one in five people that are struggling with a mental health issue. So, imagine if you have a company of 100 people, that could be 20 of your colleagues. People don’t want to come forward because they’re afraid of what people might say or think about them. And then, there’s a stigma with healthcare professionals, about 70% of healthcare professionals don’t want to treat someone with a substance use disorder. So, it’s really important for PR professionals to work with their healthcare, nonprofit clients to tell stories. We can tell stories of hope and recovery, stories of losing a loved one. There’s a American that’s dying of a drug overdose every 5 minutes of every day, and that is a heartbreaking new record, especially with COVID. And so, we can really, as PR professionals, help break the stigma and encourage others to ask for help.
DOUG: You also previously worked at Goodwill, and that informs a lot of the thinking about the stigma that you saw. How does that relate to what PR people need to do to communicate effectively if they’re working in an area, whether it’s mental health, substance abuse that has a stigma attached?
LAUREN: One of the lessons that I learned at Goodwill was people-first language. No one should be defined by their illness, disease, disability, or disadvantage. Anyone has multiple capabilities. The other is just the discrimination, and you have to keep in mind that substance use disorder does not discriminate. It can impact people in all communities. And then, really the evidence-based programs, and that applies to both Goodwill and Shatterproof. So, at Goodwill we focused on the whole person, and we looked at a person-first-centric approach. So, it was really based on that person finding dignity, and purpose, and well-being in their work, which really contributes to mental health. And then, also ensuring that they had the stability and support so that they were stable not only in the workplace but at home. And we did that for transportation and childcare, free tax prep, a number of different services. And then third, it’s really important to realize that substance use disorder should be treated as a mental health condition, just like you would treat a chronic illness, and that everyone deserves that level of empathy, and compassion, and treatment.
DOUG: And since it’s so common, you talk about the workplace. What can people do for their colleagues and what can management do from the top both from a peer to peer and management to company level to help people going through this battle, if you will?
LAUREN: There are two ways that employers can really help employees, and one is not showing someone judgmental or negative behavior. If a colleague comes to you and tells you that they relapsed or perhaps did something that was really in poor form. And then, not trying to be a problem solver, but really listening, offering assistance, helping them try to find treatment. There are a number of resources on Shatterproof’s website, providing a friendly employer space and also about how to use the appropriate language. So, rather than saying addict, it’s a person with a substance use disorder. So, it’s really important to focus on the language to lift someone up and be sure that you are using empathetic and positive language.
DOUG: Well, this has been great information that affects, unfortunately, so many people. And I do want to let the viewers know that on the link we’re providing below this, there will be access to different resources that can help during these very challenging times for both yourself and those directly affected. Thanks so much for joining us.
LAUREN: Thank you. I appreciate it.