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May 21, 2014

The new Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition fights stigma

Like diabetes, cancer or AIDS, mental illness is not a personal shame, it’s just another illness. And it’s time to be open and talk about it. That was the prime message at a news conference that brought together partners from more than a dozen area health agencies to announce the new Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition.

Like diabetes, cancer or AIDS, mental illness is not a personal shame, it’s just another illness. And it’s time to be open and talk about it.

That was the prime message Wednesday at a news conference that brought together partners from more than a dozen area health agencies to announce the new Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition and an areawide expansion of a campaign to combat mental health stigma.

The campaign, which can be found at www.itsok.us, includes not only video testimonials from individuals sharing personal stories of mental illness, but also banners, posters and postcards with messages such as “Talking About It Can Save a Life. Possibly Your Own.”

The campaign was launched last September by Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, which in 2010 had joined with the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City to form the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition.

Don Goldman, executive director of Jewish Family Services, said his organization undertook its campaign in the belief that stripping mental illness of public and private stigma would help people seek assistance while also promoting understanding.

Each year, a quarter of the adult population in the United States has symptoms of mental illness, from mild to severe, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Mental illness is so prevalent among the people we serve and indeed within each of our own families,” said Dan Powers, chief executive officer of new coalition member Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph. “I think we can point to instances where there is mental illness and our family members struggle.”

Powers shared that his mother had severe depression.

“I remember feeling so bewildered about it: ‘What do we do?’” he said. “One of the reasons for the stigma is that people believe that mental illness is a curse from God. And it’s not. We need to say in the faith community that mental illness is not a curse, it’s not a punishment. … We have to allow our brothers and sisters to stand up and talk about the pain and loneliness and struggle they are going through.”

Other members in the coalition promoting the expanded campaign include Research Psychiatric Center, NAMI Kansas, Suicide Awareness Survivor Support, Bike 4 the Brain and the eight members of the Metropolitan Council of Community Mental Health Centers.

To reach Eric Adler, call 816-234-4431 or send email to eadler@kcstar.com.

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