Addiction, PSH and Hope

This week’s passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman struck a chord with many. We lost a very talented actor who obviously filled many of our hearts and lives with so much joy and entertainment. While he certainly shared his unique gifts with the world, he was also apparently struggling with his own demons.

We can never assume. Anything.

Upon the announcement of Hoffman's death, it was saddening for me to see the judgment, hatred, and criticism surrounding addiction. Having worked for years in mental health (and having known friends, family members and colleagues with addiction problems), I can tell you with certainty that mental health issues are not signs of weakness.

While in mental and behavioral health, I never wanted to take on “addiction” as one of my areas of expertise. Honestly, it probably took the passing of my friend Shan in 2010 for me to feel really strongly about the topic. A kind-hearted, talented and passionate guy, Shan struggled until the day he passed at the age of 37, in spite of having received treatment in rehab facilities and having progressed on his own spiritual journey. It’s not that he didn’t want to get better, which is often the case.

We all have “stuff” to work through. We all have pasts. We don’t really know what other people’s daily lives are like, what struggles they may be going through, or what their backgrounds are. Having conducted thousands of in-depth interviews over the years, I think that many people would be surprised at the amount of folks who have shared that they were sexually abused as a child or experienced a major trauma, for example.

It takes a lot to work through these issues and to heal.

I’m not saying everyone struggling with addiction has had a traumatic experience; it’s just that we often don’t know the bigger picture and it’s easy to say what we would do in a certain situation...when in fact there are biological, social, psychological and even environmental factors that effect us all.

The truth is that the mind and body are inseparable, and bigger systems issues exist with more attention being paid to physical health in our culture and society. With that being said, it is harmful to sweep our mental, emotional and spiritual health under the proverbial rug. These aspects of our lives are JUST as important for our overall health and well-being. If we don’t take good care of our mental / behavioral health, the effects can lead to poor physical health.

In any case, I encourage you to take a view of compassion, which doesn’t mean to feel sorry for someone, but rather to take more of a stepping-into-their-shoes kind of view.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or addiction, remember that there’s hope and so much to live for. Your story can help others. Often times we come out of the other side of challenging times so much stronger.

Addiction is a disease, and like any other health issue, has root causes that require so much deep healing rather than just treating the symptoms.

Just a few thoughts if you have a friend or loved one struggling:

  • Do not turn the other cheek and assume friends are okay.

  • If you feel in your gut something is wrong with someone, ask him or her.

  • Listen. Do not judge or even try to give the person advice.

  • Don’t say to them, “I don’t understand why you can’t stop.”

  • Encourage the person to seek help.

Behavior change is soooo complex.  Let a professional help.

I’ve included resources below. You can also seek local mental health professionals, such as licensed clinical social workers, licensed counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or a treatment centers for help. There are also many amazing integrative approaches, and twelve-step programs have also been shown quite effective. Professionals, groups and treatment modalities exist for your support and healing.

Recovery is possible.

Lots of love,




Mental Health America:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association:

National Suicide Prevention Line

Screening for Mental Health:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: