Opinion: Harm reduction is not a minor issue

Published: 3/18/2022 6:00:53 AM
Modified: 3/18/2022 6:00:14 AM

Trysten McClain of Nashua is a community health field organizer with Rights & Democracy.

Lack of attention to adequate mental health and addiction treatment in New Hampshire is a public health issue that needs to be solved on a more expedited path.

In my work with Rights & Democracy, we advocate for harm reduction to not be brushed off as a minor issue. The pandemic has brought to light the lack of resources in the respective fields as the system becomes overburdened, and the increased response needs to be sustained. Over my life, I’ve experienced a lot of different hardships, but none have proven as much of a nuisance as my Bipolar I Disorder diagnosis and Substance Use Disorder.

From a young age, my mental health has been a struggle. My parent’s divorce and a string of untimely deaths and suicides in my life around the age of 10 set in motion my bipolar disorder. There’s one memorable photo of me about to burst out in inexplicable tears at 16 on Christmas Eve unwrapping gifts that sticks out as a major red flag around the time of me seeking psychotherapy for my mental health.

Unfortunately, my bipolar went undiagnosed due to the manic episodes being unnoticed by my parents. I went from extreme highs to depressing lows into adulthood, with numerous suicide attempts, a crippling fight with addiction, lost jobs, estranged family and friends from erratic and sometimes confrontational behaviors, and experienced much distress from not being able to understand why these things would happen. I felt completely broken as a person.

At age 22, I got health insurance for the first time in five years through an employer and was prescribed Effexor to treat my depression. Employer healthcare is not readily accessible to the majority of the public, let alone affordable treatment with the insurance provided. This medication triggered a major manic episode, where I experienced psychosis. I drank to self-medicate with inexplicable symptoms, and the use of alcohol and street drugs only worsened symptoms.

Night after night, I got into conflicts, slept minimal hours, and my work performance suffered severely, often having difficulty maintaining jobs for prolonged periods. I eventually experienced legal troubles and homelessness as a result of my erratic behaviors, and am still recovering four years later from the damages to my life.

Bipolar disorder is defined in the DSM-V as a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. With Bipolar I, both manic and depressive episodes can be experienced with or without psychotic features. Psychotic features are hallucinations, delusions, and confused and disturbed thoughts (rapid and constant speech, switching topics mid-sentence abruptly, and sudden loss of train of thought). My life would be in a far better place financially, professionally and emotionally if treatment was more readily accessible.

Some facts of bipolar include that the disorder occurs in 2.5%of the population, manic and depressive episodes can co-occur, treatment is lifelong, having a first degree relative with the disorder and stress can increase the likelihood of diagnosis, and between 25% to 60% of those diagnosed will attempt suicide with 4% to 19% completing suicide.

Finding treatment was difficult when I finally came to the conclusion that I likely had bipolar at 24, as waiting lists to be seen for a psychiatric evaluation, finding a provider, the correct combination of medication, and how to control my mood lability proved to be a months-long process. I went through numerous hospitalizations, mental health crises, and substance use disorder treatment to find myself in a more calm and serene state today at 26.

Today, I am happy, stable, and can live independently through the use of support groups and medication. The stigma surrounding these issues prevents many people from getting the care they need. My bipolar disorder gives me increased concentration, productivity, increased emotional intelligence, and a more rich life when I’m at my best. Living clean gives me the means to empower my life, and show up for life fuller than ever before.

Harm reduction in New Hampshire is a solution that could have saved a lot of my sanity over the years. My past substance abuse, bouts of homelessness, and instability in my life could have been prevented had the proper resources been made available. Making resources more adequately available could benefit the state as a whole.

New Hampshire ranks 27th in the nation for mental health services, 21st for substance abuse facilities for 100,000 people, and third for drug overdoses per capita. It’s time to revamp how we approach mental health and addiction. For ways to help change what happens in our home state, get involved with Rights & Democracy to help advocate for a better future.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy