Reading or watching the news, we receive a number of messages about mental and behavioral health. It’s a reason for violence, criminal behavior, and promiscuous acts; it’s the cause of celebrities saying inexplicable, horrible things “they don’t actually believe”; it’s used as an insult for dismissing another’s opinion; it’s a source of bullying; it’s a mechanism to discredit a person’s recent contribution or success. The culmination of these messages sell a single point – it is definitely not good to have an issue with your mental or behavioral health, or to even have it questioned. This negative perception toward an issue or conversation is known to many within public health as stigma.
To whomever just rolled their eyes to reading the previous paragraph, I get it. We either all know about the concept of stigma or just don’t care anymore. Public health as an institution has worked to address stigma since its inception. People are stubborn, resistant, and weary, especially in the digital age where you have to question the truth and value of every packet of information you come across (eyes on you Facebook). While it’s hard work to change another person’s perception and belief – and often feels impossible – that’s a terrible reason to not try.
As public health agents, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to change the negative perceptions and beliefs people have against mental and behavioral health. In order to influence change in conventional beliefs, we have to get innovative. Now, before you give another eye roll for one of the most oversaturated buzzwords in public health and nonprofits, here are some real-life examples of how change is happening in our backyard through one of Trailhead’s co-run projects – the Regional Health Connector Program. RHCs are addressing mental and behavioral health in their communities through:
- Championing stigma reduction campaigns that have culminated in movie screenings and radio broadcasts to reach the public through underutilized media
- Delivering Mental Health First Aid training to small businesses in Northeast Colorado
- Housing events and presentations at high schools are for parents and community members to learn how to identify signs of mental and behavioral health issues and what action steps to take
- Establishing zero-suicide initiatives to determine region-wide goals for addressing root causes of suicide, including drug abuse and severe mental health issues
As Trailhead and the RHCs forge new ground, I challenge our readers to be bold and unrelenting in our efforts to reduce stigma and address mental and behavioral health. Anyone who has rolled their eyes more than once through this blog, you are the most important people in this work. Without you, our work is lacking healthy skepticism. Without you, we are missing a valuable perspective. Without you, we can’t address stigma or the other barriers to addressing mental and behavioral health. So please, get involved and challenge conventional thought and stale ideas. Dare to care.
Begging for that last eye roll,
Benjamin Robb, Program Manager