Spotlight Q&A: Peaceprints WNY

Aug 17, 2022

Those of us who struggle with mental illness seldom have the visible markers to signal to others that we need compensation, support, and help healing.

Peaceprints of WNY (PPWNY) is a non-profit organization offering comprehensive reentry services to men and women involved in the criminal justice system. Our Reentry and Housing Programs are designed to offer provisions and guidance along each step of an individual’s transformation.

Why did your organization become a member of The Anti-Stigma Coalition?

Peaceprints of WNY became a member of the Coalition because of the increase in correlation of mental health and justice involved individuals. Approximately 45% of justice-involved people have a diagnosed mental illness and unfortunately most of those became diagnosed late in life and not until they’ve become incarcerated. Additionally, mental health and crime have become disturbingly related. Most recently, people with mental illness are 9x more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized and approximately 75% of people in state prisons are not receiving mental health care while incarcerated. The trauma of incarceration can further perpetuate the cycle of mental illness and often does not address some of the causes that lead the person to be incarcerated in the first place. By removing the stigma and speaking openly about mental illness we are encouraging everyone to seek treatment and counseling that could be preventative in mitigating the cycle of incarceration which is the mission and vision of the Coalition.

How are people with mental health challenges impacted by stigma?

Individuals with a mental health history are often faced with an unthinkable amount of trauma and backlash when their history or diagnosis is advertised. When we break our arm, we wear a cast—a clear indicator that we have a wound we are working to heal. We typically don’t have to hide our cast for fear of losing our job; most employers would understand that we have a condition that prohibits us from performing some tasks and would help compensate for the loss of our arm while we heal. We aren’t shamed for going to a doctor to reset the bone. In fact, our friends and loved ones would rally around us, visibly marking their support by signing our cast with expressions of love and wishes to get well soon! No one tells us to simply “get over it.”

Those of us who struggle with mental illness seldom have the visible markers to signal to others that we need compensation, support, and help healing. Further, the stigma surrounding mental illness is immense, with a diagnosis seen by many in our communities as a failure, as weakness, or something shameful. The result is that while many of us are feeling our most vulnerable and alone, we keep our struggle to ourselves, unwilling to ask others for help and unsure of where to seek it out for ourselves. This is the exact stigma that Peaceprints and the Coalition are dedicated to shattering for those millions who struggle with their mental health each day.

Does your organization provide mental health support/programming for your clients, volunteers, and employees?

In addition to PPWNY being a part of this coalition, we infuse mental wellness into our weekly routine. Every Wednesday our employees are given an activity that focuses on self-care, mental wellness/health which reserves a time in our busy schedules to ground ourselves and focus on our wellbeing. Additionally, Peaceprints provide an employee assistance program to all employees of the organization!

As for our clients, we have built great relationships with organizations such as Evergreen and Best Self to refer and connect our clients who are struggling with a mental health diagnosis. We understand that getting connected with such services can have barriers and we’ve trained our team to assist in eliminating barriers as much as possible for our clientele.

What impact is the Anti-Stigma Campaign having in the community?

The Anti-Stigma Campaign has impacted the residents of Erie County more than I think anyone could have imagined. You often see the green marketing materials throughout the community and the conversations surrounding mental health have become more and more common and less of a taboo topic. The Campaign has done a wonderful job of including agencies serving individuals from all walks of life, and that’s SO important because it does not matter your history or story- everyone is impacted by mental health.