A local community and cross-agency effort that developed the Community Health Improvement Plan 2015-2017 identified that the stigma of mental illness is an issue requiring attention in Sheboygan County. A stigma-specific subcommittee was developed to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse in our community. So what is stigma and how are we going to address it? Stigma can be understood as a set of negative or often untrue ideas that lead to beliefs that form an attitude. That attitude can include acts of discrimination. When one Googles the definition, synonyms that pop up include shame, disgrace and dishonor.
Stigma plays a pivotal role in individuals’ reporting why they do not seek help in addressing a mental health challenge and/or addiction. Stigma can also be a barrier in those with lived experience connecting to their families, and therefore part of their recovery.
Mental Health America in Sheboygan County, the local nonprofit mental health resource center, has taken a lead in connecting Healthy Sheboygan County 2020’s Stigma Committee with the work of Wisconsin’s Initiative for Stigma Elimination. WISE, as stated on its website wisewisconsin.org, is a statewide coalition of organizations and individuals promoting inclusion and support for all affected by mental illness by advancing evidence-based practices for stigma reduction efforts.
What have we learned and where are we going? What WISE has taught us is that scientifically, ending stigma together happens when we seek out folks with lived experience, listen to their story or share your story if you have lived experience, all while reinforcing and supporting stories of resilience and recovery.
Recently, MHA along with other HSC2020 agency partners, sent a team of folks to be trained as facilitators to provide WISE’s Honest, Open and Proud curriculum for folks with lived experience who want to learn to share their stories and/or embedthecoreofHOP,removing shame and blame from one’s internal perspective. We know that increasing inclusion and support happens through the power of storytelling.
In the months ahead, it is our committee’s goal to use the sharing of stories as a way to reduce stigma. Periodically in this column, you will have the chance to read stories about local individuals with lived experiences done in very mindful and meaningful ways. Upcoming HOP trainings will also be offered locally — for teens and adults — to participate in.
If you are interested in attending a HOP training or learning how to tell your story to help reduce the stigma around mental illnessandaddictioninour community, connect with staff from Mental Health America via email info@ mhasheboygan.org or call 920-458-3951 to be added to a wait list, as information is scheduled in the coming months.
Together — one story at a time — we are making changes.
Kate Baer is executive director of Mental Health America in Sheboygan County and co-chairman of Healthy Sheboygan County 2020’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee.