Stigma and self-stigma impede people’s ability and willingness to acknowledge and receive help for their mental health needs. Stigma can lead to discrimination and isolation and interferes with a one’s ability to fully be a productive member of a community.
As a result of unmet mental health needs our communities are hurting: substance abuse, homelessness, incarceration, loss of employment, family dysfunction, school problems... B Stigma-Free™ aims to reduce this stigma by bringing mental health organizations together with other groups and organizations that focus on other identities.
Messaging about the needs of people with mental illness, including how stigma must be overcome, typically happens with like-minded audiences: preaching to the choir. B Stigma-Free™is bringing together divergent organizations, and focusing on what they have in common, the stigmatization of their target population. We are demonstrating the parallels between experiences: the stigma associated with a mental illness, weight bias, discrimination toward people with disease or disability, fear of acknowledging early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, opposition to gay and transgender rights, heightism, racism, sexism, etc. Using existing networks of communication, we are cross-pollinating the stigma-free message so it raises awareness among new audiences.
B Stigma-Free™is doing what no other organization is doing: bringing together organizations that focus on mental health with others that focus on different identities to help illustrate the similarities between them.
We are helping people recognize the parallels between different experiences, and work together to cross-pollinate the message between the various groups. While there are many mental health organizations doing an excellent job addressing mental health needs and the stigma associated with mental illness, none is addressing the intersectionality between mental illness and other identities as part of its core-messaging. We are maximizing resources by using existing systems and networks to simultaneously build collaborations nationally, and on a local, grassroots level. These local and national partnerships are the framework to encourage conversations and raise awareness of behavioral health as a public health concern.
Through collaboration, we are changing how mental illness is perceived in the community. Our inclusive model encourages participation by all mental health organizations, and other groups who represent different stigmatized identities, to share in an understanding and a practice of supporting all people to feel respected.
While now on a small scale, we intend to grow our ongoing invitation to national stakeholders to identify their needs and wants, in order to reach a broader audience. The outcome will be an ongoing collaboration of thought-leaders in the fields of mental health and other areas, with the shared goal of innovative methods of achieving care and inclusion for all people.
We are developing concrete tools and want our services to be replicated. We provide toolkits for local groups to use, so services don’t need to be reinvented between communities. This maximizes resources and allows more to be accomplished with fewer resources.
B Stigma-Free™ is a registered corporation with the State of Connecticut and has received a charitable exemption; it is pursuing non-profit 501c3 status. We seek funding through grants, corporate sponsorships and donations.
As a new, national non-profit organization, it is establishing its place among stakeholders. National subject matter experts are on its Advisory Council, and guide its activities, including Dr. Patrick Corrigan, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Director of The National Consortium on Stigma and Empowerment and Dr. William Lawson, Chair and Director of Psychiatry at Howard University. The Board of Directors has been initiated and includes innovative national corporate leaders.
Our list of Partners is growing rapidly, and currently includes Mental Health America, Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression – along with several non-mental health national organizations.
B Stigma-Free’s model is designed to be replicated and adopted by others. To be effective, bottom-up, grassroots messaging must take hold.
A pilot local coalition is in Southern Connecticut. Here we are developing the template for other coalitions to duplicate elsewhere in the country. The lead local organization is the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Fairfield chapter. Also in Connecticut is the first B Stigma-Free™club: Fairfield Ludlow High School. A high school junior who has a sibling with a mental illness initiated the group and they are attracting a diverse membership.
To facilitate adaptation by others, we are hosting sub-sites on our website; these are websites with content controlled by the local coalitions. Providing this service allows the local groups to brand the coalitions with their logos, link to their own websites, and share the messaging between the groups and their constituents – all using minimal resources.
On a national level we will measure our effectiveness by the diversity of partner organizations, the number of organizations, survey results, and how each group utilizes the newly built network of communication for messaging. We will measure the number of individuals who received a message (e.g. stigma of mental illness is impeding access to care) and then the number of organizations and individuals who took action on an identified activity.
On a local, community-based level we will measure our effectiveness by the number of local coalitions and clubs that are established, and their activities. We will survey the local groups, including the number of people receiving messaging, participating in activities, taking action on a particular activity. We will also collect information on the diversity of coalition members, and the quantity of those members.
Media exposure and social media activity and followers will also be measured.