Peers in Cayuga County supports individuals with mental illness and requesting recovery-based activities that will enhance their social and practical life skills toward their becoming better community members. Services include support job support, SSI, SSDI, GED advocacy and a 24/7/365 support line.

We recently spoke with Margaret Phinney, Executive Director about the importance of eliminating stigma.

Q: Why is your agency involved in reducing the stigma of mental illness?

Peers in Cayuga County is involved with reducing stigma of mental illness because we work with people who have mental illness.

Q: Why is it important to address the stigma of mental illness?

As a peer run organization, it is important to us that people understand they cannot catch mental illness just by being near us, which seems the case in our community. Also, we strive to let all people know that having a mental illness does not mean you are incapable of achieving your dreams. I have had to stand up to people in different meetings to let them know I am not stupid.

Once I have presented where I came from and everything I have achieved, I earn a great deal of respect. I encourage people to be proud of who they are and let others know they have a mental health issue and it doesn’t stop them from being the person they want to be. Getting people to stop stigmatizing people with mental illness in our community is extremely hard.

Q: Is there less stigma as a result of people sharing their stories?

Most people of means treat others as if they are less of a human being. I know this from experience from attending different meetings and functions in the community. I don’t know why it is like this here, but it is and I strive to change what I can when I can. In my opinion, not enough people share their stories and stand up as proud people who happen to have an issue that involves mental health.