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Why the Stigma?

We can all do our part to help dispel the stigma of mental illness. County residents invited to be educated, enter art contest.

by Jo Valenti, BSN, RN, Cumberland County Mental Health and Addictions Board

Why is stigma associated with mental illness? In the distant past, certain misunderstandings prevailed in society’s view of mental illness because its cause was unknown. People were frightened by the behaviors of some with severe illness. No one could explain it and there was no effective treatment. Family members took loved ones to a mental hospital with little hope or expectation of recovery. Many spent the rest of their lives institutionalized.

Even though today we have effective treatment strategies and many people with a mental health diagnosis lead productive and happy lives, the stigma lingers. This stigma prevents those affected by mental illnesses from getting the proper help, keeps them stuck in their illness and unable to be productive members of their community. It takes huge effort on the part of all of us to break free from these harmful viewpoints. Recognizing that mental illness can be successfully treated—just like many physical illnesses, even those that once were fatal—may help to de-stigmatize. Each one of us should do whatever we can to promote a stigma-free community.

One way to effect change is to become educated about mental illness. There is so much information available today from reliable sources. Knowing the facts helps us dispel misconceptions, especially when conversations arise in which a commonly held erroneous belief is expressed. Gently steer the person towards facts. Avoiding conversation does not help. Guiding our friends, neighbors, and workmates toward eliminating stigma is the goal.

NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. The Cumberland County NAMI affiliate fell dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts are currently underway to re-activate Cumberland County NAMI. For information, contact Beena Bhatcar at 732-940-0991, ext. 110

In Cumberland County, efforts to break free of the stigma attached to mental illness have been ongoing. Through strategic programming and various initiatives, The Cumberland County Stigma-Free Campaign is a countywide initiative that aims to prevent and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.

The objective is to do so by helping to make conversations about mental health part of everyday discussions and to encourage individuals and families who are affected by a mental illness to seek assistance without the fear of being negatively judged.

Currently, there is the Stigma Free Art Contest, open to all ages in Cumberland County. County residents are invited to submit their original artwork, which may be used by the County to promote stigma-free thinking.

The submission deadline for the art contest is April 3. Entrants may win a $50 gift card and have their art used in a Cumberland County calendar. This is the link to the art contest information on the County website:

As a society, all of us benefit from having the correct view of mental illness. Recognizing that those affected by mental illness can be helped to lead very productive and happy lives will contribute to less negativity and healthier outcomes for everyone.

Please join us in the effort to reduce stigma associated with mental illness.

Minding Your Mind