Why did your organization become a member of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition?
OLV Human Services provides an array of programs and services to more than 12,000 children, youth, adults, and families in the region, with a vast majority of services in the communities where our families live and are most comfortable. We also provide mental health services to children and adolescents in our mental health clinics. OLV Human Services became a member of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition because—as an agency providing services to those with behavioral health needs—we wanted to help address the rise in mental health illness that providers were noticing in adolescents and adults. When our agency became aware of the “stop the stigma” campaign in 2019, we wanted to better equip our staff with the tools needed to educate those they serve on mental health awareness topics. Stigma comes from a lack of understanding of mental health illnesses coupled with fear or embarrassment, which can often prevent a person from receiving needed treatment.
How are your clients with mental health challenges impacted by stigma?
Because of the lack of understanding of mental health illnesses, people with mental health challenges often find it more difficult to find suitable employment or housing because of discrimination. They may also become victims of violence because of their mental health illnesses. People fear what they don’t know and when they don’t understand/relate to a person living with mental health illness, they are sometimes afraid to rent to them or employ them. Mental health awareness is key to stopping the stigma!
What is your organization doing to address stigma and enhance mental wellness for the people you serve as well as employees and volunteers?
OLV Human Services has providers who are the voice for our families and strong advocates for them. We also promote self-care and encourage staff to take care of their own mental and physical health needs. Working in the human services field, you sometimes give so much of yourself to take care of others that you fail to take care of yourself. We promote our mental health clinic—not only to clients—but also to staff. Some of our staff who aren’t licensed providers have received mental health first aid training, which helps them identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. We are trying to get all our community- based staff/staff working with youth and adults trained in mental health first aid.