Local anti-stigma campaign brings awareness to mental health

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Community members gathered to attend a workshop geared toward combating the stigma surrounding mental illness on Saturday morning. The program was hosted by the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition.

During the workshop, participants learned how to address the issue of mental illness if it’s affecting someone they know. Workshop instructors said starting the conversation is one of the toughest obstacles when it relates to mental illness, and it is one of the big reasons why many don't get help.

“This is so important because one of the biggest obstacles to people getting help and also recovering and managing their mental illness is community support, the support of people they know and care about them. That just friends and family reaching out to you makes the biggest difference in any kind of recovery,” said Celeste Aronoff of Jewish Family Services.

For more information on the Anti-Stigma Campaign read the information provided below, or visit the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition’s website at itsOK.us.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, Fox 4 has resources available at fox4kc.com/you-matter or you can call the National Hopeline Network at 1(800)784-2433.

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Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition

Anti-Stigma Campaign

 The Kansas City Jewish community has suffered some great losses from the impact of mental illness. In 2010, a group of concerned folks got together and began a frank conversation about mental illness, suicide and our community’s response to grief and loss. The result was the formation of the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition made up of volunteers, Jewish Family Services and the Rabbinical Association.

The Coalition decided to focus on three major areas:

  • the reduction of the stigma of mental illness,
  • suicide awareness and prevention, and
  • enhancing our community’s response to grief and loss.

While there have been programs, events and educational opportunities already, this year, during the High Holidays, a new media campaign will be launched to help combat the stigma of mental illness.

The campaign message is: “Mental Illness: It’s real. It’s common. It’s treatable. And it’s OK to talk about it.”

When someone we care about is dealing with a physical illness, people don’t hesitate to seek out their friends and family support. Why should things be different for those experiencing mental illness?

  • According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), “Mental illnesses are very common; in fact, they are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
  • According to the U.S. Surgeon General, an estimated 23% of American adults (those ages 18 and older) or about 44 million people, and about 20% of American children experience a mental disorder during a given year.”
  • The NIMH goes on to say that “most people with mental illnesses who are diagnosed and treated will respond well and live productive lives. Many never have the same problem again, although some will experience a return of symptoms. The important thing is that there is a range of effective treatments for just about every mental disorder.”

When you hear about ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia or depression, for example, there is a good chance you or someone you know, a friend or family member, are already living with one of these conditions.

  • The day-to-day reality for most people with a mental illness is that it’s real, it’s common, and it’s treatable.
  • Since thoughts and feelings are invisible, we may not be able to see when others are struggling.
  • We often shy away from conversations about these conditions, unsure of what to say or how to say it, but overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness is the real challenge in our community.

Just as we have learned to talk more easily about AIDS/HIV, cancer, or addiction, we are learning to be more open about recovery from mental illness. We need to be compassionate, understanding and have frank discussions to build connection instead of isolation.

  • The stigma of mental illness can have as much or more impact on individuals and their family/friends as the condition itself.
  • The sense of shame, loneliness, and embarrassment can prevent someone from seeking treatment or support for what can be a manageable and treatable illness.
  • The reality is that millions aren't simply suffering from mental illness; they are living productive lives and are contributing members of society, dealing with the same daily challenges we all face.

The campaign, which will consist of post card, posters, videos, a website and community-wide education, gives clear insight and direction on how to start and continue the conversation, even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable, and to open the discussion beyond stereotypes. Normalizing the conversation around mental illness is the critical step in bridging the gap created by stigma to create and sustain supportive and empowering relationships between individuals and their friends, families and loved ones.

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