By Debra B. Johnson, Executive Director, St. Clair County Community Mental Health
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) was established by Congress to educate and increase awareness about mental illness by combatting the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma, which stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding, is fueled by the misconceptions that people with mental illness are dangerous and that mental health issues are caused by personality weaknesses or character flaws. Stigma leads to prejudice, discrimination, fear, and mistrust, impacting how people with serious mental illness are treated by others, including landlords, employers, members of the criminal justice system, and health providers. Perhaps the most serious
consequence of stigma is the barrier it creates for people receiving the care they need. This is because stigma causes many people with a serious mental illness to delay treatment and research shows that the longer an individual waits to get treatment, the harder it is for them to recover.
Everyone has a role to play in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. First, if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health or substance use disorder, seek treatment right away. If you are comfortable sharing your story, break the silence by talking about your recovery, thereby educating others by
challenging myths and stereotypes. The rest of us need to learn and share facts about mental illness and take opportunities to get to know people who experience mental illness, treating them with the same respect and dignity we do everyone else. We also need to speak up when others reference negative stereotypes or discriminate when it comes to participation, employment, and housing.
This year MIAW is from October 7th through October 13th. In recognition of MIAW on Tuesday, October 9th, from noon to 1 pm at our main office at 3111 Electric Avenue in Port Huron, St. Clair County Community Mental Health (CMH) will present stories of hope, healing, and recovery by our Peer Support Specialists. Also in recognition of MIAW, on the following day, Wednesday, October 10th from noon to 1 pm at our Port Huron offices, CMH will present “The Impact of Exercise on Mental Health Symptoms.” To celebrate both MIAW and National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, CMH is partnering with McLaren Port Huron and St. Clair County Community College (SC4) on October 11th from 9 am to 5 pm to provide free depression screenings at SC4’s Student Center.
While we welcome opportunities during MIAW to fight stigma, at CMH our anti-stigma efforts are not limited to this single week. For example, throughout the rest of October and early November CMH hosts and participates in several important local events that educates the public about and provides support to individuals with mental illness.
On Sunday, October 14th at East China Park CMH is supporting the St. Clair County Suicide Prevention Committees Walk 2 Remember, Walk 2 Prevent fundraiser, a 5K walk. Registration starts at 11 am. The walk will begin at approximately 12:15 pm. All donations support the Survivors of Suicide (SOS) Support Group, the SOS
Lending Library, the SOS Memorial Garden at East China Park, and suicide prevention efforts within St. Clair County. For more information go to www.walk2remember.myevent.com.
On Wednesday, October 17th from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. at our main office at 3111 Electric Avenue in Port Huron, we will host our eleventh annual Celebration of Recovery ceremony. This ceremony recognizes individuals who receive CMH services for their extraordinary commitment to the recovery spirit. The Celebration of Recovery is
free of charge and open to the public.
Another community outreach activity is the CMH Players annual production. This year they will perform the comedy Funny as a Crutch on Friday, November 2nd and Saturday, November 3 rd at the Citadel Stage in downtown Port Huron. Funny as a Crutch is an uproarious yet touching collection of ten short plays that explore the concept of disability. The play offers people who use CMH services alternative pathways to recovery and discovery through the arts while showcasing the diverse talents of individuals with mental illness. There is a free noon show on Friday while tickets for Friday and Saturday 7 pm show are five dollars. For ticket information go to www.scccmh.org.
Finally, CMH sponsors an annual writing contest for St. Clair County middle school students and an art contest for St. Clair County high school students. This year’s contest theme is, “Discover Wellness Within.” Entries are being accepted through Friday, January 18, 2019. For more information about the contests, including entry
forms and contest rules, go to www.scccmh.org. I invite you to join us in our efforts to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Together, we can change negative attitudes towards individuals with mental illness and shape a better, brighter future.