Award will allow coalition to expand awareness campaign into neighboring Niagara County
The New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) has awarded a $45,000 grant to the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition to expand its awareness campaign, “Join the Conversation,” into Niagara County. The coalition’s campaign promotes mental health awareness and fights the stigma surrounding mental illness, which can be a barrier preventing people from seeking the help and treatment they need.
The coalition has implemented a comprehensive, multimedia campaign in Erie County, including broadcast, website, social media, digital advertising, email and grassroots tools to get the message out. It tested the effectiveness of the campaign with a third-party polling organization that surveys community attitudes and have found the campaign is making a positive difference in people’s views of mental illness and treatment.
OMH Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan, said, “OMH is proud to support the work of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition and to help them to expand their awareness campaign into Niagara County. They have been very successful in helping people understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness and that improvement and recovery are possible.”
Karl Shallowhorn, chair of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition, said, “Knowing that the NYS Office of Mental Health is providing the coalition with funding is an affirmation of the great work that has been done to end stigma in Erie County. Since we began over three years ago, we have seen how the ‘Join the Conversation’ campaign is making a difference in people’s lives. By providing the support to expand into Niagara County, we will be able to reach more people with our message and continue to change public perceptions about those of us who live with mental health conditions.
“On behalf of the coalition, I would like to thank the NYS Office of Mental Health for its contribution to further our cause and move us closer to our goal of eliminating stigma.”
John Grieco, acting commissioner of the Erie County Department of Mental Health, said, “As a founding member of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition, I am energized to learn of the NYS Office of Mental Health’s announcement to provide funding to the Erie County Anti-Stigma Association's ‘Join the Conversation’ campaign. Stigma knows no boundaries and this funding will allow us to further our reach by expanding the coalition’s campaign into a neighboring county. I am proud of the work and commitment of the coalition’s dedicated membership to end the stigma associated with mental illness and grateful to the NYS Office of Mental Health for their continued support and leadership.
Laura J. Kelemen, LCSW-R, director of the Niagara County Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said, “We are very grateful to the Office of Mental Health for the grant funding that will allow the expansion of the ‘Join the Conversation’ awareness and anti-stigma campaign. It is critically important that we let people across all of our communities know that there is help, and there is hope. The ‘Join the Conversation’ campaign facilitates this awareness.”
The coalition’s website and social media platforms engage the public and encourage people to learn about mental health and take a pledge to end the stigma of mental illness. To date, more than 3,100 individuals have taken this pledge. The coalition also provides information regarding resources in the community as well as individual stories of struggle and success. The 16 founding members of the coalition consist of a cross-section of agencies in the community as well as Erie County government.
The decision was made to expand the campaign into neighboring Niagara County because, with 87,000 households, it is second-most populous county, after Erie, in the Western New York region. The coalition will use the grant funds to increase its digital and social media advertising buy, print Niagara County-specific materials, and conduct outreach and other events in the county.
The coalition will also conduct a baseline poll of residents before the campaign launches, to test people’s perception of various aspects of mental illness and treatment. A follow-up poll would be conducted down the road to test the effectiveness of the campaign.
Similar polling in Erie County found the awareness campaign increased people’s comfort level in talking to their friends and family members about mental health issues. In 2016, before the coalition launched its awareness campaign, 52% of respondents said they would be comfortable talking to family members if they felt they had a mental health issue. That figure increased to 66% by 2018.
The coalition’s website, letstalkstigma.org, provides information on its work, the awareness campaign, and the resources available to people in Erie County. The website also features video stories of people who have faced stigma and addressed their mental health issues.