HealthlinkNY Kicks Off Community Effort to End Mental Health Stigma

January 16th, 2017 - We’re leading a community effort to develop a Mental Health Tool Kit to prompt more people to offer or seek help.

New York State Senator Sue Serino (at right) with HealthlinkNY’s Victoria Reid at the Mental Health Tool Kit kick-off event December 15.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, friends and relatives are quick to ask, “How can I help?” But when someone is diagnosed with depression, a frequent response is, “Snap out of it.”

No wonder why many people who experience mental health challenges are reluctant to seek help. Only 24.6% of adults with mental health symptoms believe that “people are generally caring and sympathetic” to individuals exhibiting such symptoms, according to studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Sadly, the consequences can be tragic. For the first time since 1993, overall life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped, particularly among people younger than 65—and two contributing factors are suicide and injuries associated with substance use disorders. Locally, the suicide rate of 12.1 per 100,000 people in the Southern Tier is higher than the New York State rate of 8.2. The suicide rate in four Hudson Valley counties also exceeds the state rate.

“Untreated mental illness is a community-wide issue,” says Phillip Ginter, LMSW, MPA, Director of Community Initiatives at HealthlinkNY. “Matters pertaining to mental health—ranging from depression and overeating to opioid, heroin use, and suicide—affect thousands of families and add costs to the overtaxed healthcare system. Working together, the HealthlinkNY Community Network and our partners can take action to reduce the high incidences of suicide, untreated mental illness, and substance use disorders in our region.”

Now Developing the Tool Kit

A broad coalition, including health, mental health, human services, and education experts, as well as government and law enforcement representatives, has been convened by the HealthlinkNY Community Network to find ways to connect more people experiencing mental health symptoms with the care they need. On December 15th, the HealthlinkNY Community Network organized two simultaneous kick-off events—one in the Hudson Valley, the other in the Southern Tier—to develop a Mental Health Tool Kit designed to help professionals and community members identify, understand, and reach out to people experiencing signs of mental health illness or substance use disorders.

Over the coming year, workgroups in the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier will meet regularly to develop the Mental Health Tool Kit. The goal is to use the Tool Kit to educate community members, including school administrators, human resources managers, law enforcement officers, clergy members, and healthcare providers, about recognizing signs of poor emotional health and wellness.

Stigma is to Blame

“We need to remove the stigma associated with these diagnoses,” explains Mr. Ginter. “This is why we are so passionate about creating and providing a Mental Health Tool Kit for professionals and community members, so they have effective resources and can overcome their own hesitancy to help people in need.”

The Tool Kit also will increase public awareness of widespread negative perception that marginalizes individuals showing signs of mental health or substance use disorders. Speaking on behalf of Orange County Mental Health Commissioner Darcie Miller, Tammy Rhein said at a press conference announcing the Tool Kit, "Stigma is the number one barrier to accessing mental health and chemical dependency services. Because of denial and stigma, people wait before seeking help for mental illness and for addiction services.” Ms. Rhein, the Director of Chemical Dependency Services and Adult Mental Health in Orange County, expressed hope that the Tool Kit project will “continue to expand the conversation and promote the need for earlier access to services.”

In his remarks at the press conference, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro emphasized the crucial need to take action. “Dutchess County looks at a person’s total health—both physical and mental—and we take seriously our commitment to strengthening each aspect. Someone living with a mental illness should never face a stigma; on the contrary, we in Dutchess County applaud those who look for help with such issues,” he said. “We thank HealthlinkNY for hosting this meaningful conversation and gathering input from local stakeholders to address this very important issue.”

For more information on the Tool Kit and HealthlinkNY Community Network’s other population health priorities, visit http://www.healthlinkny.com/population-health-pg.html