A drunken assault. A man left bleeding in the street. Another man, ten schooners and five bourbons deep, walking away, with an empty grin spreading across his face.

This is the scene that lead to the conviction of Ryan Wells, 33, for an unprovoked assault described as “vicious” by Detective Sergeant Steve Signorini. Wells recently posted bail, which was granted in light of his attempt to clean up his act and stop drinking and abusing cocaine and ice.

There’s a lot to unpack about this story and the intersection of alcohol and violence, and how that relates to the work we do at SMART Recovery Australia. Ryan Wells’ story is not an unfamiliar one: Wells, injured in a car crash, failed to seek trauma counselling. Instead, he descended into alcohol and drug abuse, further compromising his mental health. SMART Recovery Australia, of course, neither endorses nor excuses this behaviour, but we would be dishonest not to observe its frequency.

People battling trauma often fail to effectively seek the help they need to move forward with their lives. In fact, only 13% of men with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression or trauma, seek formal help for their problems. There are many factors contributing to this, but one of the leading barriers to help seeking behaviour is stigma. 40% of Australians with mental health issues reported dealing with stigma in the workplace in the last year alone.

The story unfolds: battered by trauma, people attempt to self-medicate. Vices become crutches and the underlying mental health issues are exacerbated (as we discuss here). Not everyone who faces addictive or mental health issues turns to violence, and not every violent person is battling a substance abuse or mental health issue. However, when one takes a broader view, the correlation is clear: if those who need help do not get it, the consequences can be disastrous.

SMART Recovery Australia opposes stigma and discrimination at every level. That’s why we avoid labels like “addict” or “alcoholic”. The damage wrought by stigma is incalculable. The Ryan Wells story isn’t just the story of one man and a vicious, stupid attack on an innocent bystander. This story affects the families of both men. It affects the Frankston community who no longer feel safe walking down the street. The social harms of stigma are beyond calculation, and the only way to battle stigma is with understanding.