The Erie County Office for People with Disabilities exists to foster collaboration with the county’s service providers, provide advocacy, serve as a resource, educate the public, and seek to enhance the quality of life for people with a disability. We recently spoke Frank Cammarata III, MPA, Executive Director, regarding the stigma of mental illness.

Q: How does stigma of mental illness affect your agency’s clients?

The stigma of a mental health diagnosis affects people who connect with our office in many ways, but most importantly through the aspects of daily living. We assist people who struggle with seeking employment opportunities, people seeking employment accommodations, seeking housing, seeking medical and general day to day services. We are available to provide linkage and referral to services they may not be aware exist. People are stigmatized in all aspects of their lives.

The Erie County Office for People with Disabilities was created to ensure that Erie County’s citizens with disabilities would have a direct voice in County government; to make available to such citizens an advocate who could work within the county structure to develop and enhance services;and to oversee facilities and programs by the County.

Q: Why are you involved in the Join the Conversation campaign?

I have been involved with the campaign from the beginning for many reasons. I have family and friends involved in providing services for people in need, I have known many people affected by mental health diagnoses and know how challenging their life can be on a daily basis when they are stigmatized in work, educational, or housing situations. I have worked many years on anti-stigma campaigns and understand the value of the message. Most importantly, it is vital that we lend our voice and office to this important campaign.

Q: Why would you encourage other organizations to become involved in this effort?

Mental health diagnoses along with all other disabilities affect almost 20 percent of our population, as we age the chance of having a disability increase to almost 49 percent. I think it is important and I would like to encourage any and all organizations to become involved because you don’t know when or if it will affect you or a loved one at some point in time. The community needs to be aware of the hurt caused by stigma, and the difficulty it creates for a person. Bullying and stigmatizing occur every day in schools, work, and throughout our community. We all need to be more understanding and accepting and know we each can make a contribution to society.