It’s been said that mental illness is not a casserole illness. When you’re struggling, no one is likely to stop by with a dish of pasta to offer support like they would if you were suffering from a physical illness. But the stigma associated with mental illness is robbing individuals of much more than a warm meal. It can prevent individuals with mental illness from seeking diagnosis, treatment and even the support of their family, friends and community when they need it most.
One in four people will have a diagnosable mental illness this year. That makes it more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Yet, few know how to talk about it.
The Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition intends to change that. In 2010, members of our local Jewish community began a frank conversation about mental illness and the lack of support they felt in dealing with it. Efforts began in that small community, but it was soon evident that the message needed to be spread metro-wide. In May, this new coalition was launched and is now made up of 18 partners, led by Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City.
The goal is simple: to start a conversation about mental illness. The issues, of course, are more complex. That’s why it’s so important that many of our community’s mental health agencies have joined together in this effort. We are pooling our resources and expertise to spread the message that mental illness is real, common and treatable. And it’s OK to talk about it.
The campaign’s focal point is a Web site, www.itsOK.us, where you can view poignant videos that feature local people whose lives have been impacted by mental illness. They share their personal stories as well as suggestions for reaching out to others. In addition, the Web site offers tips for starting the conversation and other resources for dealing with mental illness.
Bernstein-Rein has donated its creative and technical expertise to the campaign, which also includes a series of postcards, posters and banners. We hope to expand our outreach effort soon with a broader mass media campaign throughout the Greater Kansas City area.
While we seek ways to reach the broadest audience possible, we know that the most effective outreach is done one-to-one. It is asking a friend thoughtful questions, lending a listening ear, offering a hug. You don’t have to know all the answers to be there for someone, but be willing to help them find what they do need.
Conversation by conversation, we can help reduce the social isolation and stigma often associated with mental illness. Start the conversation today with someone you care about. A casserole is optional.