We recently spoke with Valerie Nowack, LMHC, MPA, CEO of Harmonia Collaborative Care about the stigma of mental illness.  

Q: Why did your organization become a member of The Anti-Stigma coalition?

As an organization serving individuals with mental illness for nearly 50 years in a semi-rural community, we have seen how greatly stigma can impact utilization of services. Harmonia Collaborative Care understands the importance of standing with other local organizations to reduce stigma as one of the many barriers to receiving help.

Q: How are people with mental health challenges impacted by stigma?

Clients and community members have expressed fears of being seen in the waiting room by neighbors and friends. Some have also reported fear that others may see their car in the parking lot. Even some parents have hesitated or removed their teen from treatment based on shame they felt from the community or internalized shame over their impact as a parent on their child’s mental wellness. We have had clients with great success stories who fear to share their journey due to how it may be perceived. Not being able to share our stories perpetuates stigma, by allowing others to continue to feel alone in their struggles.

Q: What impact is the Campaign having in the community?

It is excellent to see all types of organizations, not just mental health, banding together to let people know they are not “inherently wrong” or “broken,” and they are not alone. The younger generation seems to have a reduction in stigma. We have even seen some of our teens bring their friends with them and have them wait in the waiting room. They seem comfortable with having a therapist and getting help. The COVID-19 crisis has also shed a light on mental health, as individuals who never had a history with symptoms like depression and anxiety began to experience these things. It “normalized” it, and suddenly those who had been treated for mental illness, became the “experts”. The Anti-Stigma Campaign can buoy us through the changing tides and bring mental health to the surface.