Millions of people in the United States are affected by mental illness – whether dealing with their own health or that of a loved one. In spite of the statistics, a great deal of stigma still exists when it comes to behavioral health. Communication is a powerful tool that can be used to break this stigma.
As many as one in five adults in the United States experience mental illness each year, and one in six youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Approximately 180,000 people in Milwaukee County struggle with mental illness, with depression, anxiety and substance use disorder among the most widespread behavioral health issues.
With those numbers, you would think more people would talk openly about mental health. Sadly that is not often the case. But there are ways to raise awareness and create understanding – most of which involve communication.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers nine ways to fight stigma surrounding mental health. Many of them tie back to communication.
Talk openly about mental health
Educate yourself and others
Be conscious of language
Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
Show compassion for those with mental illness
Choose empowerment over shame
Be honest about treatment
Let media know when they are being stigmatizing
Don’t harbor self-stigma
We work with the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human ServicesBehavioral Health Division (BHD) and other healthcare and social service entities on a number of projects aimed at educating the public and reducing stigma. From community relations activities around Mental Health Month and Recovery Month to media relations efforts to spread the word about the services offered, Kane engages the public and promotes awareness through public relations, community relations, marketing and more.
Communications Tools to Combat Stigma
Many communications tools and tactics can be used to help raise awareness and fight stigma.
Marketing Marketing is an essential tool in a communicator’s toolbox. In the behavioral healthcare space, it helps to ensure patients and other stakeholders know what services and resources are available. Kane recently worked with Wraparound Milwaukee to put together a targeted marketing campaign to drive college students to seek mental health services and resources. Just one month after the integrated marketing campaign began, 52 verified individuals visited the Wraparound Milwaukee location at the Behavioral Health Division.
Public Relations Sharing stories can be an opportunity to help others by providing hope and encouragement. Stories build connections, letting people know they are not alone. Those stories can be shared in several ways, whether through local media relations efforts, awareness events and content for websites. Kane has worked with partners to use public relations activities to highlight national awareness campaigns, such as National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, Mental Health Month, Suicide Prevention Week and Recovery Month. It’s important to note that you should be careful in the language and images used in any campaign tied to mental health – avoid despair and desperation and focus on more hopeful words and images.
Community Relations Community relations is a great way to get people to break down misperceptions and promote recovery and healthy communities. It also offers the opportunity to find innovative community-based solutions to mental health needs. Kane recently supported Universal Health Services (UHS) during their entrance into the Wisconsin market to build a new behavioral health hospital. Kane helped to strengthen communication channels with key stakeholders and elected officials and deliver customized communications to target audience groups, during and throughout the announcement period. Welcoming community feedback and being as transparent as possible invites trust and establishes yourself as honest and credible.
Social media To stay relevant, behavioral healthcare centers need to share stories on social media too. While struggles with mental health have traditionally been kept private, in recent years, many sufferers have turned to social media to share their mental health challenges with the world. Social media has been a significant tool in reducing the stigma online. It is also common for organizations to use social media as a platform to share information, tips and strategies. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a Facebook page that provides information about events and a safe space for people to discuss their concerns.
We specialize in working with large nonprofits to combat stigma and build awareness. From media relations to digital and stakeholder engagement, communication plays an important role in behavioral healthcare.
Looking to build an integrated public relations and marketing campaign to build awareness? Let Kane Communications Group help! Contact us today.