Sacramento Launches Mental Health Promotion Project to Reduce Stigma and DiscriminationMary Ann Bennett, Deputy Director Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health ServicesWhen the issues of discrimination and stigma are discussed, it is generally in the context of race, gender, sex or age.Rarely is there a correlation to mental health.The numbers tell a different story. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given year, roughly one inevery four adults will experience a diagnosable mental health disorder, and nearly one out of every five children will ex-perience some degree of an emotional or behavioral difficulty. Even though it’s a common occurrence, stigma and dis-crimination against persons living with mental illness and emotional disturbance are widespread and reach all facets ofsociety.Mental illness affects every ethnic, racial, cultural, economic and religious group and impacts individuals of all ages andgenders. In Sacramento County alone, it is estimated that nearly 355,000 residents are living with a mental illness, butresearch shows that only one-third of those individuals will seek professional help because of the stigma and discrimina-tion surrounding mental illness.According to a report by the California State Department of Mental Health, the “California Strategic Plan on ReducingMental Health Stigma and Discrimination,” stigma is defined as: “attitudes and beliefs that lead people to reject, avoid, orfear those they perceive as being different. Discrimination occurs when people and entities act upon these attitudes andbeliefs in ways that can deprive others of their rights and life opportunities.”People living with mental illness and emotional disturbance can experience discrimination in employment, education andhousing. Common misconceptions about mental illness range from perceiving all individuals with mental illness to bedangerous or violent to labeling mental illness as untreatable. And too often, representations of mental illness in the me-dia can be hurtful and inaccurate, and feed rather than fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.The discrimination that surrounds mental illness and emotional disturbance can result in despair, prejudice and hope-lessness. Just as harmful as societal stigma, self-stigma is estimated to deter between 50 and 60 percent of individualsliving with mental illness from seeking treatment, which can lead to serious consequences.According to a landmark 1999 United States Surgeon General Report, “Stigma is the most formidable obstacle to pro-gress in the arena of mental illness and health.” People with mental health challenges often remark how stigma anddiscrimination against them can be even worse than their mental health condition.As part of its Mental Health Services Act initiative, the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services,Division of Behavioral Health Services will launch countywide efforts, with tailored messaging, to fundamentally alternegative attitudes and perceptions about mental illness and emotional disturbance. This work will underscore that men-tal health issues are not taboo and will promote resources and community supports available throughout the County tofoster hope and recovery.We are working with a comprehensive group of area stakeholders and an array of multicultural communities to help tellthe real-life stories of individuals and families living with a mental illness or serious emotional disturbance. By promotingpositive beliefs and attitudes about living with mental illness or serious emotional disturbance, the campaign will dispelharmful myths and stereotypes as it fosters hope, resiliency and recovery. Through the campaign we’ll work to facilitatean ongoing discussion with the community regarding their thoughts, concerns, questions and messages of hope relatedto mental health issues.By changing attitudes and beliefs toward persons living with mental illnesses, we want to eliminate barriers to achievingfull inclusion in society, promote help-seeking behavior, and increase access to services to support individuals and fami-lies. If successful, not only will we have helped prevent future discrimination against those with mental health issues, butalso created an environment where families aren’t afraid to discuss mood or anxiety disorders, and more than one thirdof individuals will make the phone call or walk through the clinic door to explore treatment. For more informationabout resources and services available in Sacramento County please call 2-1-1, TTY, (916) 446-1434.