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Mental Illness Anti-Stigma Campaign Launched in South Dakota

December 29, 2006

Sioux Falls, SD - Having a mental illness is common, with 24 million people nationwide battling some type of psychological distress. Yet only one in four Americans have any sympathy for people with mental illness, according to a recent poll by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That poll is the inspiration for a mental illness "anti-stigma" campaign kicking off in South Dakota and nationwide.

Phyllis Arends with the South Dakota National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says it's time to lift the stigma and quit treating people differently based on their mental health.

"It could be a physical appearance or it can be the way someone reacts in public, but sometimes people look at them with fear or they just don't understand and they shy away, and that hurts people's feelings."

Arends explains that the stigma can be an obstacle to people wanting to get help.

"People who have a mental illness with a stigma attached to it are afraid to go to the doctor and say they're going to get help for mental illness. They're worried their insurance company may drop them, or that if their boss finds out they may get fired. They're worried that if their peers find out they won't have friends any longer. This stigma is a big issue."

Arends adds that stigma is an even bigger issue with youth because they all want to fit in.

"This campaign by SAMHSA and the AD Council is really aiming to reach that 18 to 25 year old group of people because they're still impressionable. If we can get them to understand this, they can carry the torch forward, and by the time they're older, the stigma should no longer be an issue."

Arends notes that it is important for the general public to understand that individuals with mental illness deserve respect and admiration for what they're battling.

SAMHSA can be reached at www.samhsa.gov. To view the campaign online, go to www.whatadifference.samhsa.gov.

David Law/Eric Mack, Public News Service - SD