Tag Archives: stigma

Healthpartners’ Make It OK campaign

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.

Reaching Out for Help

Recently, SMCPros featured the work of individuals and organizations in the community.  We had an entry posted there, but we wanted to share it here as well.

Every day of the week, I find a call for help in my inbox.  The people who write are unflinchingly honest about emotional breakdowns, job losses, and medical nightmares.  They found a form on our website or our general email address, and sent something in the hopes that there is some help on the other end.  Even though they have no idea they are writing to me, they are honest and candid to a degree that awes me.  Because I forward these emails directly to our client advocates, Anna and Tom, almost none of them ever hear from me at all.
But nonetheless, they have come to the right place.  In a system that still tends to treat people as less than, and with an illness that can make even the smallest obstacle too much to handle, they have run into a group of people who are dedicated to understanding their needs and helping them find their way.  I work for a small non-profit, Mental Health Association of Minnesota.  For over 70 years, we have helped people with mental illness be heard.

We don’t focus on what we think is important, we ask them what their goals are.  For one client, it was making copies of correspondence without feeling like the hospital staff were looking over her shoulder.  For Amanda, it was just sorting through the paperwork that meant the difference between a stable home and living on the street.  For Kevin, it was trusting group home staff enough to tell them about his nutritional goals.  It all matters because the person behind it matters.

Believing that we’re important and that we can take a concrete step towards recovery is absolutely necessary.  Time becomes a real enemy when I feel depressed or anxious.  I lose my sense of what things are like without that cloud hanging over me, much the same way that you might forget how good a full, deep breath feels after a long bout of the flu.  Without hope and help, everything is too much, and every set back feels like the end of the world.

More than a decade ago, I was a patient at Abbot Northwestern, hospitalized a handful of times for suicidal behavior and thoughts.  I was not responding well to medication, and every change in my prescription added another 15 or 20 pounds to my frame, until I could barely recognize myself in the mirror.  In a matter of months, I had gone from zero involvement in the system to a head-first dive.  It was frightening and lonely, full of people who didn’t believe me or listen to what I thought might help.  I was on a unit with all kids, but many went days or even entire stays without seeing family.

I got daily visits from family.  There were cards from my friends waiting for me when I got home.  My internship supervisor came to the unit to make up for a lunch we were supposed to have.  She even arranged a get-well call from her boss’s boss, a guy named Paul Wellstone.  And from working in his office, I knew that it took phone calls all the way up the chain of command, and a scheduling effort.  Far from taking away from the impact, it doubled it.  You see, the point is that it’s not about one person who cares, it’s about entire families, communities, workplaces that do.

Mental illness is often chronic.  It can be extremely painful and damaging.  It is also true that people recover, leading wonderful and meaningful lives.  They do so every day, but they almost never do it without support. MHAM takes phone calls and emails from anyone who is living in Minnesota or is concerned about a Minnesota resident who is having a hard time navigating the mental health system.  We connect people with needed services, teach skills for self-advocacy and wellness, helping them live into their recovery.

I wanted to share this story with you so that you know two things.  First.  If you have a mental illness, and you don’t know where to turn, there is help. If it’s 2 AM when you’re reading this, and you’re in crisis, please call 800-273-TALK. It’s a different organization, but they are ready to connect with you, and believe me that it is worth it.  But the next morning, I hope you email us at info@mentalhealthmn.org, or give us a call at 651-493-6634/800-862-1799.

Second.  Whether or not you are living with a mental illness, do you agree with me that recovery shouldn’t be luck? There are plenty of ways for you to help.  Drop us a line to find out more about volunteer opportunities, how to contact your legislators about life changing community mental health services, or our wellness education program. And yes, consider a donation.  Our services may not be the easiest to fund in today’s economy, but that voice of hope is worth something.  Personally, I think it’s worth quite a lot.

Ben Ashley-Wurtmann

Policy and Outreach Associate

Nominations Now Being Accepted for the 2012 Gloria Segal Award

MHAM is accepting nominations for the 2012 Gloria Segal Award for excellence in improving the lives of Minnesotans with mental illnesses. This award is given to honor the memory of Representative Gloria Segal. Representative Segal served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1983 until her untimely death in 1993. In her 10 years in the legislature, she worked tirelessly to change how people with mental illnesses are treated in Minnesota. She led the way in the passage of groundbreaking legislation such as mandating coverage of mental health treatment in group health insurance plans and the creation of the mental health division at the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Ombudsman’s Office for Mental Health, and the State Advisory Council.

The Gloria Segal Award is given to an individual who has improved the lives of a great number of Minnesotans with mental illnesses. Accomplishments may include:

  • Empowering people with mental illnesses
  • Clinically treating people with mental illnesses
  • Championing key legislation
  • Increasing resources for people with mental illnesses
  • Creating or improving systems of care for people with mental illnesses
  • Performing key research in the area of mental health
  • Creating a popular book/movie/play or other work of art that significantly decreases stigma

The Gloria Segal Award has been received by Representative Mindy Greiling in 2009 and Robin Wold and Hope House in Bemidji in 2011.

Do you know someone who has significantly improved the lives of Minnesotans with mental illnesses? We invite you to let us know! Please provide a short narrative including:

  • Name and phone number of the person you are nominating
  • Your name, phone number, and email
  • Nominee’s relationship to the mental health community
  • Activities which improve the lives of people with mental illnesses
  • Accomplishments in those activities

Nominations will be accepted May 15 through June 30, 2012. The award will be presented at the 3rd Annual Celebrating Recovery event on September 27, 2012.

Submit your nomination to edeide @ mentalhealthmn.org or via mail to:

Mental Health Association of Minnesota
Attn: Gloria Segal Award Nomination Committee
475 Cleveland Avenue N, Suite 222
Saint Paul, MN 55104

It’s not that simple…

By Ben Ashley-Wurtmann, MHAM Policy and Outreach Associate

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Arizona, many people have been asking questions about the mental health system and how it responds to individuals who may be capable of violence.  We believe that a strong health system is better able to handle individuals in crisis when it focuses on providing a strong continuum of care.  When every case is an emergency, few people will get the kind of care they require.  However, some of the discussion around the nation has been focused on the perceived danger presented by “the mentally ill.”

The truth is that people with mental illnesses vary greatly in terms of the symptoms they experience, the personalities they have, the experiences they have lived through, and the extent to which their illnesses affect their daily life.  Simply put, there is no one experience of mental illness, or even a particular condition, such as schizophrenia.

An interesting article was posted by the Wall Street Journal, questioning the validity of link of violence and mental illness caught our attention.

But another, more recent study showed that people with schizophrenia are no more likely to commit violence than those without mental illness. That research did find an increased risk of violence among those with schizophrenia who are also using drugs or alcohol.

Complicating things is that even if someone with schizophrenia commits a violent act, the illness isn’t necessary[sic] the reason for the behavior, say experts. With regard to Loughner, “my concern is that people immediately leap to the explanation that [the mental illness is] the master answer to why he committed this crime,” says Swanson. “It’s much more complicated than that.”

These are both important points to keep in mind.  Mental illnesses do not automatically make people violent, nor do they explain everything there is to know about a person.  More than ever, the public understands that mental illnesses are biological and treatable.  Unfortunately, this has not led to a reduction in stigma. This is an ongoing conversation at MHAM as we pursue our vision of improved lives for people with mental illnesses.  You can find more about how stigma works and how we are changing our struggle against it in our recent newsletter (page 4), on our blog, in the news, or by contacting us at info@mentalhealthmn.org.

Department of Defense Campaign Addresses Mental Health Issues

According to a 2008 study conducted by the RAND Corporation, many returning veterans that had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom had significant mental health issues. Of the 1,945 that were surveyed, 14% met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 14% met the criteria for major depression, and 19% had a probable traumatic brain injury (TBI).  About one-third of these returning veterans had at least one of these conditions.

Last year, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) launched the Real Warriors Campaign directed towards service members, veterans, their families, and health professionals. The goal of the campaign is to reduce stigma associated with psychological health problems and traumatic brain injury. The campaign encourages and supports service members to seek help through the many resources that are available to them and their families. Along with helpful resources and a 24/7 information and help line, the Real Warriors campaign’s website draws upon the courageous stories of service members and veterans that found the strength to seek help and how it made a positive difference in their lives.