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Say it out loud

Statewide campaign targets awareness

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hoping to promote good mental health in every Illinois adult and child, a new "Say It Out Loud" statewide campaign takes aim at promoting good mental health as a part of overall health and well-being.

"With nearly 20 percent of the population living with a mental health problem, it's vital to recognize that mental health is a valuable component of total well-being and encourage residents to not be ashamed when needing help," says Tanya R. Anderson, M.D., deputy clinical director of Child and Adolescent Services, Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health.

Dr. Tanya Anderson

Dr. Anderson, who is responsible for the oversight and development of all children's mental health services and programs in Illinois and who serves as a member of the "Say It Out Loud" steering committee, says there is a definite need to encourage a more positive mental health image, acceptance of mental health issues and acknowledgement that treatment works.

"We believe the multi-faceted three-year awareness campaign, being launched this month by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Mental Health Division and the Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership, will go a long way toward raising awareness for mental health and well-being as it connects to all aspects of our physical, emotional and spiritual health," she notes.

Data from the U.S. Census and the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services suggest that Dr. Anderson's comments are on target. At any given time, they say, more than 700,000 adults are coping with a diagnosable mental illness. In Illinois, nearly one-quarter of the state's adolescents report symptoms of depression so severe it disrupts their routine and daily activities for weeks at a time. In Chicago, those figures rise to one-third of city teens.

"While 80 to 90 percent of mental illnesses are treatable, the sad fact is that only one out of five people living with mental illness seeks and receives treatment," Dr. Anderson notes.

Reluctance to talk about mental health, she says, is so strong that it prevents many from seeking information and support as well as asking for help when needed.

Campaign goals, Dr. Anderson says, include promoting good mental health and reducing barriers that prevent people from seeking help and support, encouraging people to seek information and help when they need it and building a strong base of support for those with mental health challenges.

"It's easy to get involved," Dr. Anderson explains. "Simply reach out and talk with a friend or colleague who is stressed, letting them know you care, ask for help yourself, or talk to experts such as teachers, social workers and your own physician about family issues and mental health concerns."

Effective treatments, she says, are available and enable people with mental health challenges to lead full, balanced and happy lives.

"Yet the stigma associated with the subject of mental health and with mental illness can prevent those who need help from reaching out," she explains. "By the time the campaign ends in June, 2010, we hope to have reached millions, encouraging them to be aware of and prioritize mental health, to raise the subject and to seek help and information when needed."

Dr. Anderson points to the success of a similar "What A Difference A Friend Makes" federal campaign targeting 18-30 year old young adults and encouraging them to reach out to a friend for help.

"Illinois is certainly a leader when it comes to recognizing the need to build awareness, acceptance and support for mental health issues across the board," she says. "We hope to build on the success of the federal campaign efforts and expand efforts to reach people of all ages, targeting not only young adults, but parents and caregivers needing new information on child development or who suspect their child might be facing a mental health challenge, those who know someone with a mental health challenge, and individuals already living with a mental illness."

A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and behavior that results in the inability to cope with life's ordinary demands and routines, says Carol Wozniewski, Mental Health America of Illinois (MHAI) executive director.

"There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illnesses, all of which can be triggered by a variety of causes: genetics, biochemical imbalance, a particular situation or series of events, an illness, or any combination of those factors," explains Wozniewski, who says her agency's message is one of help and hope. "Mental health problems are real, common and as treatable as many other physical illnesses, with high recovery rates if treated appropriately and in a timely manner."

For information on promoting good mental health, visit www.mentalhealthillinois.org

or call the Illinois Collaborative for Access and Choice toll-free consumer and family care line at (866) 359-7953.

Mental Health America of Illinois may be reached at (312) 368-9070, Ext. 10 or visit www.mhai.org.


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