By Mary Giliberti, J.D.
May is Mental Health Month. It’s a time when people should learn the symptoms of mental health conditions and to know when and how to get help if they need it. One of the greatest obstacles to people seeking help, however, is the stigma and discrimination that too often surround mental illness.
The need to eliminate stigma is nothing new. Fifteen years ago, a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health—the first and only one to date—identified stigma as a public health concern that leads peoples to “avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing" individuals with mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.
Even worse, individuals living with mental illness often internalize the stigma that exists in our culture, damaging hopes for recovery.
This month brings new signs of change. We have opportunities to seize that can help create broader understanding of mental health, overcome stereotypes and break down barriers. It is a moment when we can all reach out to build a movement that will eliminate stigma and replace it with help and hope.
One sign is the recent statement of our new Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, M.D., that fewer than half of people with mental illness get care. “That's not good for us and it's not good for us as a country. Until we get rid of the unacceptable stigma of mental illness, it's going to be very hard for people to come forward for care."
Murthy also called on religious leaders to "use the power of their pulpits to bring mental illness out of the shadows." Like many family survivors, he knows about tragedy first-hand. He had an uncle who died from suicide because of untreated mental illness.
The other sign is the launch of NAMI’s stigmafree in partnership with philosophy, a brand of worldwide Coty, Inc. skincare. The launch of the campaign included the lighting of New York City’s Empire State Building green—the color of mental health awareness—as a symbol of hope for the nation and the world.
NAMI is excited about the philosophy partnership.
The stigmafree campaign is the first time that a major corporation outside the health care community has stepped forward to make a commitment to fighting stigma. Through its Hope & Grace initiative, philosophy will donate 1 percent of product sales to community-based mental health efforts.
Building a movement for change will require even broader commitments from individuals, businesses, organizations, campuses and churches, as well as others. As a first step we’re asking everyone to take the stigmafree pledge.
We’re also asking everyone to use Twitter and other social media to encourage others to take the pledge and help raise awareness: e.g. #iamstigmafree. As a movement, we need to keep pushing forward. Mental Health Month and the stigmafree campaign are important parts of that effort. Take the pledge and invite others to join you!
As always, please also feel free to share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not able to answer every email, but I do read them all.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
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