Free webinar series aims to reduce mental health stigma, address nationwide drug crisis

98, 268. That’s how many people in the United States died from drug overdoses in 2021, according to the National Safety Council. This figure marks an all-time high.

104. According to the Port Huron Police Department’s annual report, that’s how many overdose-related calls were received in 2022 — a stark increase from the 78 overdose-related calls in 2017.

Like many problems society faces, it can be easy to think these issues impact other people in other communities. However, data shows that drug use impacts every community, every race, and every socioeconomic group across the country.

396. That’s how many residents of St. Clair County reached out for substance use services at St. Clair County Community Mental Health (SCCCMH) in 2022, according to Alexis Hadwin, LMSW, CAADC, Clinical Coordinator of Substance Use Disorder Program at SCCCMH.

Alexis Hadwin, LMSW, CAADC, Clinical Coordinator of Substance Use Disorder Program at St. Clair County Community Mental Health.“I think we're becoming more aware of substance use as a community – reducing stigma and increasing educational opportunities as well as resources,” Hadwin says. “I feel like our resources in the last two years have definitely increased in our community, specifically St. Clair County.”

To continue encouraging the community to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and substance use, SCCCMH is hosting its annual Recovery Summit throughout September, which is National Recovery Month. This Recovery Summit will be comprised of a series of webinars, which will feature sessions related to the nationwide drug crisis, substance use recovery, loving someone with addiction, peer support stories, and more.

“With the reduced stigma and the many multiple opportunities in our community for engagement and recovery, I think we're definitely seeing folks of all walks of life beginning and/or successfully in recovery,” Hadwin says.

One of the sessions will be presented by Victor Polito, Veteran Peer Support Specialist at SCCCMH. His webinar “My Search for Serenity” will be held on Monday, Sept. 18.

“I am a veteran diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe depression disorder, and I'm also an alcoholic in recovery,” Polito says. “I went to SCCCMH at my darkest time, when I was ready to die; and I am going to be talking about my recovery, telling my recovery story.”

He says the webinar will be about an hour long. While he will be talking about his trauma and battles with his diagnoses and alcohol, he says that won’t be the main focus.

“The main focus is going to be the process in which I found recovery, the process through which I found sobriety and the desire to live again,” he says.

Part of that focus will be talking about resources and how services at SCCCMH helped him. He says one of the things that helped him was having his own Veteran Peer Support Specialist.

“He was amazing. He was a Marine – like myself, an alcoholic – like myself, with PTSD – like myself,” Polito says. “Having that person there at SCCCMH when I was going there, knowing that he was there and that he had my back because he was a fellow Marine - that was a big deal to me.”

Victor Polito, Veteran Peer Support Specialist at St. Clair County Community Mental Health.Now, Polito hopes that by telling his story – and through his work at SCCCMH – he can help others as well.

“What I would love to do is help one veteran and let them know that they're not alone - that there are other veterans that have been through it; and that if I can get better, anyone can get better. Recovery is possible,” Polito says. “Unfortunately, we are still losing 22 veterans a day in the country to suicide. That is a number that I came very close to joining on multiple occasions. That's where I specialize at work – I spend most of my time helping veterans, so I'm hoping this can help reach one veteran. And even if this doesn't help one veteran, I want it to reach one person – any person that's struggling with addiction, PTSD, or a person that is ready to take their own lives.”

Through Polito’s webinar and other sessions throughout the month, the Recovery Summit will bring together physicians, healthcare workers, human service professionals, law enforcement officers, school personnel, local government officials, first responders, the recovery community, those who are on their own recovery journey, and others who have an interest in learning more about substance use.

Hadwin says events such as the Recovery Summit are important because they continue to reduce the stigma associated with mental health, improve community education, and provide resources for those on their recovery journey.

“We're all more alike than we are different,” she says. “This brings everybody together to fight the stigma and encourage equality between physical health and overall mental health.”

While stigma reduction can seem like an abstract notion or something that is too small to have an impact on an issue as big as substance use, Polito says it is a critical step in helping those who are facing substance use disorder.

“That stigma is what kept me away from getting the help that I needed for so long,” he says.

There is no cost to participate in any of the webinars and attendees may sign up for as many as they choose. Some of the sessions offer Continuing Education Units as well.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our community and beyond our community,” Hadwin says. “Anybody that wants to jump on from any location can get something out of it.”

To view the Recovery Summit schedule or to register for a webinar, visit
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Read more articles by Gabrielle Haiderer.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Haiderer is passionate about sharing stories that show the positive interactions between individuals and businesses that occur every day in our communities - interactions that inspire hope and motivate community growth. She has used this passion to share stories through a variety of media outlets - from television to radio to traditional newspaper to digital news. When she's not writing, Gabe stays busy running her own videography and social media management business in Northern Michigan, caring for her two furkids (Watson the siamese cat and Holmes the Corgi), spending time with her husband, and tending her garden.