Gerard Place, located on Buffalo’s East Side, provides support and housing for single-parent families that have experienced the pain of poverty, homelessness, and/or domestic/substance abuse. The agency provides the community with a number of services designed to empower individuals through education, employment, vocational training, life skill classes, and counseling.
We spoke with David Zapfel, President/CEO, Gerard Place who shared how Gerard Place clients are impacted by stigma.
Q: Why did your organization become a member of The Anti-Stigma Coalition?
Gerard Place takes great pride in strengthening the community and empowering individuals and families towards self- sufficiency. Joining The Anti-Stigma Coalition allows Gerard Place to have a voice for those who suffer from mental illnesses here on our campus and in the community. Mental illness is often viewed in a negative way because of the attitudes and beliefs toward people who suffer from a mental health condition. Gerard Place is completely aware of the harmful effects of stigma such as the lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others, the reluctance to seek treatment and missing out on opportunities for work, school, or social activities. Being a part of The Anti-Stigma Coalition, we can all work collectively to lessen the stigma that’s related to seeking treatment. The goal is to create more awareness on the negative effects that stigma has on those with mental illnesses, maybe people will become more involved by educating themselves in efforts to break down the barrier.
Q: How are people with mental health challenges impacted by stigma?
I think people with mental health challenges are impacted by the stigma in many ways. For example, those with mental health issues may be too embarrassed to seek help or treatment because of the negative connotation associated with having a mental illness. I believe they suffer with self-doubt and shame which often causes isolation and self- judgement. We all have heard of about those stories where individuals are bullied or harassed because of the stigma. I think one of the underlying challenges that is not often talked about is the inadequate health insurance that does not cover mental illness treatment. This is extremely important and it can make a person feel unwilling to get help or treatment because they can’t afford it or do not have access to treatment. Also, the idea of being judged alone is enough to deter someone from seeking help. People with mental health issues may let opportunities pass them by because of their mindset of never overcoming certain challenges.
People with Medicaid/Medicare are often treated differently than those with paid health insurance. This could be another way people with mental health challenges are affected by the stigma.
Q: How can the individuals you serve benefit from efforts to eliminate stigma?
We have clients here who suffer from mental illness and I believe they can benefit from efforts to eliminate stigma by realizing they are manageable ways to cope. For starters, seeking the treatment and overcoming that fear. This will open the doors to job opportunity and gaining employment. Another benefit from eliminating stigma would be those being treated better in the community. Again, bringing awareness to this stigma may also teach people how to be more patient and compassionate to those suffering from mental illness. There is a large population of single moms with mental illnesses and by eliminating the stigma, parents could move forward in a less stressful matter. Being a parent, children can notice when something is off. Having that mental stability can lead them to be a better example as a parent showing their children stability.