— The stigma associated with mental health challenges can make it even harder for people to get help.

At just 12 years old, Troy Manns said he was first introduced marijuana — then alcohol and cocaine. At the time, Manns said he was a great student with a bright future.

But at 18, he had fallen into a full-blown substance use disorder.

“Everybody thought that if you just went to church and somebody prayed for you, your life should be better, and unfortunately, that didn’t work for me. I didn’t realize that I had a disease,” said Manns.

The alcoholism mixed with self-esteem issues left Manns feeling lost in his small, predominantly African-American community in Eden.

He said no one talked about ways to get help.

“People looked at me as a moral failure, and that added to the stigma on top of what I already felt about myself,” said Manns.

‘Culture of mistrust’

It’s that stigma that stops so many people who are struggling from asking for help. In March, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported that 40 percent of adults reported symptoms of a mental health issue, but many never ask for help.

“There’s this culture of mistrust and a culture of not feeling comfortable trusting help, the mental health professionals, and really trying to just make sure that they are not being put in a position of being vulnerable or being taken advantage of,” said Stephanie Irby Coard, an associate professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Pandemic Generation: Kids in Crisis

Manns said thankfully, he found a way out.

“I was really fortunate and blessed to get into treatment in 1993 to learn about the disease of addiction,” he said.

For the last 21 years, he’s been sober.

He’s now leading advocacy work for Recovery Communities of North Carolina to de-stigmatize mental health issues and substance use disorder.

“I just found purpose in pouring into other people,” said Manns. “That’s what changed my life.”

By Percy