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Breaking the Silence: Using Public Relations to End the Stigma around Mental Health

In today’s advanced world, our society is more open and inclusive than ever.  We openly discuss topics that were deemed far too sensitive generations ago.  If those sensitive topics are related to medicine or health, television advertising urges us to seek treatment from any number of products.  But there is one health issue that is still buried beneath a layer of silence ingrained in our society over the course of centuries:  mental illness.

Mental illness carries a stigma that prevents far too many people from speaking out and seeking treatment for fear of discrimination and fear of being shunned. The numbers are staggering.  Nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year.  Regardless of race, age, religion or economic status, mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children across the United States.  Around 25% of adults experience a mental health issue in a given year, yet less than 1 in 3 adults receives services.  Too many people are suffering in silence, afraid to seek treatment and support.  Earlier this summer, the Obama administration held a conference on mental health in Washington D.C., and called for community conversations across the country to open a dialogue on mental health, and end the silence and stigma around mental health.

In Florida’s Palm Beach County, Regan Communications is part of an inspiring initiative that has helped this region become a model for “Breaking the Silence” around mental health.  Regan is performing public relations services for a coalition of stakeholders known as the Palm Beach County Action Alliance for Mental Health.  This initiative has brought community organizers, mental health professionals, the School District of Palm Beach County, the PBC Sheriff’s Office and others together as a working team to create open dialogue around mental health and create an atmosphere of respect around the issue – so that people in need of treatment and support can be connected to the resources available to help them.  The early returns on this initiative are quite encouraging.

While society has been conditioned to fear and remain silent about mental illness, Regan Communications is helping the Palm Beach County Action Alliance for Mental Health make significant strides getting its message out through media coverage aimed at creating an environment where mental illness is thought of in similar terms as any other treatable medical condition.  The School District of Palm Beach County, through the efforts of the Action Alliance, is starting to implement mental health curriculum in elementary schools, an initiative whose importance was highlighted by the education reporter for the Sun Sentinel and previewed by News Channel 5:

http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-09-19/news/fl-mental-health-counselor-20130919_1_school-counselors-guidance-counselors-freedom-shores

http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/region_s_palm_beach_county/boca_raton/palm-beach-county-schools-to-start-training-parents-and-teachers-on-identifying-mental-illness

Regan Communications is helping the Action Alliance “Break the Silence” in the community as well as the schools.  In advance of a recent “Breaking the Silence” public event for parents, Regan was able to put this issue in the media spotlight through an aggressive media relations campaign that included radio, television, newspapers and online media.  These stories focused on the biggest obstacle to making progress in dealing with this legitimate health and wellness crisis, which is the stigma that discourages early identification of mental health problems and prevents people from getting the support and treatment they need to be well:

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/local/breaking-the-silence-symposium-brings-facts-hope-a/nZ4ZP/

Mental illnesses are treatable, yet while people easily seek treatment for the flu or a broken arm, far too many are not seeking treatment for mental health issues.  Recent tragic events such as the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard demonstrate that early identification and proper treatment are critical. The stigma and silence around mental illness must end.  In Palm Beach County, the Action Alliance and Regan Communications are working to create an open dialogue and community conversation that marks a new era in mental health – raising awareness that will lead to more people getting the help and support they need – and deserve.

-Sean Martin

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