The Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania (MHAPA) supports and promotes principles that facilitate the recovery and resiliency of individuals and their families. All too often stigma and discrimination are barriers to opportunities—employment, community engagement, housing, healthcare, and education—that support recovery.
Guided by a 1999 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health that said “Stigma leads people to avoid socializing, employing, or living near persons who have a mental disorder,” for years MHAPA worked to eliminate stigma and discrimination by raising awareness about mental illness in our communities. Our messages: Mental illness affects everyone, regardless of race, income levels, employment, age, gender; and people living with mental illness make important contributions to our families and communities. Recovery was part of our message but our emphasis, at the time, was on breaking down the negative attitudes again mental illness by educating people about it—the facts, figures, and realities.
These were powerful—and necessary—conversations to have during that phase of our work. But things evolve…
Almost four years ago now, a group of individuals with lived experience approached MHAPA with a new message. Inspired by the ITE/MH poem, they suggested we shift our focus from the negative attitudes that work against mental health recovery to focus on people who are the Evidence of recovery and those who support this recovery journey.
The more I listened to their ideas, the more excited I became about the possibilities.
Research supports the idea that significant improvement in attitudes about mental illness occurs when people have direct contact with individuals who have lived experiences.
The campaign we were now talking about developing was a way to bring the recovery journey to a broader community—it was time to we stop talking about stigma and discrimination and start talking about recovery. We could stop “wagging our fingers” telling people what they were doing wrong and begin celebrating the many living examples of recovery, honoring what people are doing right for themselves and their friends and family.
This marked a monumental change in the way MHAPA approaches our efforts to promote inclusive communities and impact how people think about mental illness.
After a year of planning, MHAPA launched the ITE/MH Campaign in 2011. It’s grown and evolved over the past three years, but our core purpose remains the same: to celebrate the uplifting values of the Campaign and the remarkable strides people make every day as they walk the recovery journey or support others on theirs.
We believe that shining the light on recovery will lead to a day when stigma and discrimination don’t exist at all.
Sue Walther is Executive Director of the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania.