Every month I participate in the Regions Hospital Patient and Family Advisory Council. At our monthly meetings we discuss issues specific to the experience of mental health patients at the hospital, but we also spend time addressing broader issues related to mental health. The advisory council gives feedback not only on the construction and organization of Regions’ new mental health building, but also on patient policy and staff trainings. As part of this, the council got an advance preview of Healthpartners’ Make It Ok campaign last year.
You may have seen some of the Make It Ok campaign posters in bus shelters and on billboards. They typically feature two people facing each other with a blank dialogue bubble creating a barrier between them. The message is that people’s unwillingness to talk about mental health furthers stigma. At the bottom of the poster is a website: www.makeitok.org
Talking about mental health is complicated. Because so much cultural baggage is tied up in our notion of mental health, folks are resistant to identify with the concept or to even bring it up. When I am contacted by friends or family members who are concerned about someone they know, much of our conversation revolves around how to respectfully communicate with someone who may be experiencing a mental illness. When I am contacted by individuals with mental illnesses, much of our conversation revolves around how to be a good self-advocate in a stigmatizing environment. Frequently I’m asked if I know of resources the individual can pass on to family members who know little about mental illness.
The Make It OK website is a great starting point for friends and family. At the website you can browse through different phrases family and friends can use to bring up mental health respectfully. It contains basic information about mental illnesses and tips for how to engage with folks who may be experiencing a crisis.
If you live with a mental illness and want your family, friends and community to learn more about mental health and stigma, check out www.makeitok.org. It may be a useful resource for you. But if you need more information than the website offers, or if you have questions that are more complex, you can also contact an individual advocate for support by calling MHAM at 651-493-6634.