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Mental Health Coalition adds partners, expands Anti-Stigma Campaign

Last fall during the High Holidays the Jewish Community Mental Health Coalition launched an Anti-Stigma Campaign. Its key message: “Mental Illness: It’s real. It’s common. It’s treatable. And it’s OK to talk about it.”

The campaign gained such respect within the general community, as did the JCMHC — which is comprised of volunteers and coordinated by Jewish Family Services in partnership with the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City — that it is expanding to include about a dozen other partners in the general community. The name is now the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition to reflect its wider reach in the metropolitan area.

“It is so gratifying that the work started in the Jewish community to reduce the stigma of mental illness is growing to the whole Kansas City community,” said Don Goldman, executive director and CEO of JFS.

“The Jewish community is now looked at as a leader in the area of mental health and in fighting the stigma,” he continued. “We are now connecting with all of the major community health care providers in the city. It’s something that helps raise the issue and it’s also how the Jewish community can reach out to the whole Kansas City community.”

Goldman explained JCMHC purposely designed the Anti-Stigma campaign so that it wasn’t specifically Jewish. That way others could easily use the campaign. What he didn’t expect was that the general community would want to use it, and collaborate on other ventures, so quickly.

“A lot of mental health professionals loved the campaign,” Goldman said. These professionals liked how it very clearly spoke about the stigma and had specific ways to address it, most notably how people could start the conversation.

“So we started discussions with a number of them over the past several months and it was clear that they wanted access to the campaign,” Goldman said.

The announcement on the new coalition was schedule to take place Wednesday, May 21. (The Chronicle went to press on Tuesday, May 20.) It coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month in May. This new coalition, led by JFS, will pool resources and expertise for an Anti-Stigma Campaign, which will now take place all over the metro area. The effort has a dedicated web site at www.itsOK.us.

“We expect to add even more organizations to the coalition over time,” Goldman added. 

JFS is making the materials from the original Anti-Stigma campaign available to all the new coalition members at no cost. He said the new coalition is working on expanding the campaign.

“If we do a communitywide campaign, and we decide the right way to do this is to put it on a billboard, then we will work together with all our partners to fundraise for that,” Goldman explained.

Basically, Goldman said JFS will help manage the campaign, to make sure the message remains clear.

“Over time we will work together with the partners to help fund a broader marketing for it,” he said.

The history

The initial anti-stigma effort was the result of work of the JCMHC. JCMHC was formed in 2010 by people in the Jewish community who approached JFS after many had suffered some significant losses from the impact of mental illness. They felt that their community was not providing the support needed to properly deal with and support their mental health challenges.

JCMHC moved forward with the launch of an Anti-Stigma Campaign targeted to the Jewish community. All creative materials were developed on a pro bono basis by Bernstein Rein. The top advertising agency assisted in market research, defining the message and providing the creative work for a multimedia campaign that included a series of post cards, posters, a website and YouTube-style videos with poignant, real-life stories about mental illness. JCMHC participated in the Mental Health Conversation run by KC Consensus, held in Kansas City in September 2013, which was part of the White House initiative to raise awareness about mental illness. 

The new coalition

With the new communitywide coalition, the anti-stigma effort will expand to the broader Kansas City community. Through both individual and group initiatives, coalition members will “spread the word” about the importance of “starting the conversation” about mental illness. The goal is to take mental illness out of the shadows so all those dealing with it can have the support of their friends and family. The reduction of the stigma associated with mental illness will follow a similar reduction of stigma of cancer in the 1960s and 1970s and AIDS in the 1990s.

In addition to founding members JFS and the Rabbinical Association, members of the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition include: Bike 4 the Brain; Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph; the Metro Council of Community Mental Health Centers comprised of Comprehensive Mental Health, Johnson County Mental Health, Mental Health America of the Heartland, ReDiscover, Swope Health Services, Tri-County Mental Health, Truman Medical Center Behavioral Health, Wyandot Center; NAMI Kansas (National Alliance on Mental Illness); Research Psychiatric (HCA); and Suicide Awareness Survivor Support-MOKAN.

The campaign continues

Goldman said with the announcement of the new partners, the Anti-Stigma website has been expanded to include resources that link to the partners. It also features new videos.

In addition, JFS plans to launch a second wave of a campaign in the Jewish community sometime this summer or fall. This wave is expected to include two additional postcards and two new videos. Wave III is expected to come out in 2015.

“We’re not going to stop the campaign we already started,” Goldman said. 

“It’s typical for marketing campaigns to have more than one wave. This gives people a second and a third time to see the message.” “At the same time we’re not just repeating the message, but actually expanding it.”