Safe Spaces for Mental Health, Addiction, and Recovery

Creating Safe Spaces, Reducing Stigma, and Fostering Support

The need for safe spaces surrounding mental health, substance use, addiction, and recovery continues to grow. While we have seen numerous stigma reduction efforts nationwide, there is still significant discomfort talking about these significant life experiences. This article will provide an overview of how safe spaces can be created in every environment and the necessity for the average person, not just healthcare professionals, to take action to make sure others have a place to go for help, support, or a listening ear free of judgment, punishment, or fear.

Understanding Safe Spaces

A safe space, in general, is a setting/environment in which a person can be their authentic self without fear of discrimination, harassment, or emotional harm. Safe spaces for mental health, addiction, substance use, and recovery, similarly, are spaces in which those topics are not judged, where the person is not shamed, and where empathy is abundant. There is intentionality in safe spaces – a deliberate effort to foster a sense of security, acceptance, and mutual respect. As a result, the person can be vulnerable and open about their experiences and needs. The majority of safe spaces are formal programs, but that limits the availability of support and acceptance to only those entities when we all could benefit from safe spaces everywhere. Truly safe spaces take into consideration the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental safety of the person. This means thinking about images depicted, language used, noises heard, and resources provided. 

Benefits of Safe Spaces

Regardless of the nature of the space, safe spaces offer a variety of benefits that contribute to the overall wellbeing of an individual. When considered in the context of mental health, addiction, and recovery, these spaces may be the only place the person feels secure asking for help or expressing a need. Let’s look at three specific benefits of these spaces:

  1. Reduced Stigma and Isolation: We know that, sadly, significant stigma and shame continue to surround addiction, mental health, and recovery. This can lead a person to avoid acknowledging their needs and refraining from interacting with others out of fear of judgment or ridicule. By providing a safe space, we are sending the message that the person can be whomever they are without fear of repercussion. When there is a safe space, people are less likely to withdraw and isolate. And as we all learned from COVID-19, social isolation is extremely detrimental to wellbeing.
  2. Increased Access to Support: Let’s be clear – the role of a safe space is not solely to provide services, referrals, or references. The is so much power in simply existing as a place of acceptance. However, for those who are seeking assistance, the existence of safe spaces break down barriers to awareness of services and even accessing care.
  3. Empowerment and Self-Efficacy: When someone has a safe space to be themselves, their self-esteem improves. Perhaps while in that space, they’ll learn about a helpful resource, show kindness to another person, or experience a sense of pride for engaging in a space that embraces them. This can all contribute to an increased sense of empowerment and self-efficacy. Think about it, if you have become accustomed to being told, or the message implied, that you’re “bad” or “wrong” for an aspect of your life and then find a place of acceptance and empathy, wouldn’t you, too, feel empowered? That who you are IS enough, that you DO matter?

How to Create a Safe Space

Safe spaces can be offered anywhere, and should be everywhere. There are no physical building requirements for a safe space, sometimes all it takes is the ambiance of acceptance. Here are some ways to facilitate the provision of a safe space.

Physical Safety

  • Secure Environment: Ensure that the space is free from potential hazards. Create safety protocols to ensure the physical safety of the person. 
  • Address Potential Concerns: If someone is fearful of others hearing, take time to explain how conversations are kept private.
  • Accessibility: Provide ramps, elevators, accessible restrooms, and other accommodations to eliminate any discomfort or exclusion of the individual.
  • Cleanliness: Maintain a clean environment.
  • Amenities: Consider providing things such as water and healthy snacks. (Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs)

Emotional and Mental Safety

  • Non-Judgmental Environment: You cannot simply say it’s non-judgmental, the actions and words of all in the space must demonstrate true acceptance and lack of judgment. Know the proper terminology and language to avoid accidental stigmatization. 
  • Supportive Atmosphere: Validate the person’s experience, don’t interrogate. Offer resources when needed and wanted.
  • Clear Communication: Don’t make an assumption that you know what they mean or that they understand you. Confirm what you heard and ask if they have any questions. Encourage open dialogue to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Conflict Resolution: Promote a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation. 
  • Trauma-Informed: Be mindful of potential trauma experiences and possible triggers. 
  • Eliminate Stress: Create a calm and soothing environment. 
  • Encourage Self-Care: Empower the person to spend time taking care of themselves.

Spiritual Safety

  • Respect for Beliefs: Acknowledge and accept diverse beliefs. Avoid imposing your own. Ask thoughtful questions to take their beliefs into consideration.
  • Inclusive Practices: Provide the opportunity for their traditions and practices to be facilitated.
  • Holistic Recognition: Take into account the various components of spirituality.
  • Trauma-Informed: The person may have experienced spiritual or religious trauma – be attentive to and respectful of their engagement or lack thereof in spiritual activities.


Whether it’s a formal setting, an online community, or a park bench – we can make any space safe for individuals with mental health, addiction, substance use, and/or recovery experiences. Regardless of where we are, we carry within us the ability to provide a safe space by being empathetic and non-judgmental. If we all commit to making whatever space were are in safe, we will be making tremendous strides forward to ensuring all who want or need support are able to obtain it.

Looking for a safe space?

Connect with a peer specialist.

Visit Syndicate 12, an online environment designed specifically for individuals with mental health and/or substance use lived experience.

One thought on “Safe Spaces for Mental Health, Addiction, and Recovery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Register for the Directory

Get listed and found on the Straight Up Care directory site and app. Connect with other Peer Specialists, learn, and collaborate!

Register Now