"Say it out loud" Campaign Aims at Awareness, Acceptance, Access

With the goal of getting every Illinois adult and child to recognize mental health as essential to their general wellbeing, a groundbreaking statewide three-year campaign, "Say It Out Loud" held kickoffs in Chicago, Springfield and Peoria in early May. The campaign is co-sponsored by the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health (DMH) and its copartner, the Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP).

"With the recently passed federal mental health insurance parity law, opportunities for receiving services may be expanded and with nearly 20 percent of US citizens living with mental health challenges, it's vital to recognize that mental health is a valuable component of total well-being. 'Say it out loud' encourages Illinoisans to not be ashamed or afraid to get help," states Tanya R. Anderson, M.D., The Division's Chief of the Clinical Services System who also sits on the campaign's steering committee.

Real People, Real Stories

"Say it out loud" reframes the issue of mental health as a vital part of overall health. The campaign is based on current methodologies indicating that the best way to address common misperceptions associated with mental illnesses is by giving people the opportunity to engage one another on the subject in a meaningful way in order to share their experiences and knowledge. Thus, throughout its life, the campaign is using the stories of real people in promotions and advertisements that are being distributed to newspapers and radio stations in every county of the state, and through videos featured on the campaign's new Web site: www.mentalhealthillinois.org.

"Say it out loud" was developed through both systematic and rigorous investigation of various long-term strategies for effectively reaching and appropriately responding to common misperceptions of the general population while enhancing opportunities for integrating already existing family and local community resources to assist those coping with diagnosable mental health challenges.

To optimize the campaign's message and long-term effect while ensuring its positive impact with respect to the enormous cultural diversity and the wide range of local communities throughout the state, various approaches were tested and analyzed by both mental health professionals and focus groups carefully selected to represent Illinois' demographic profile. The result is a unique strength-based public education initiative that is not only responsive to the state's mental health mission but one that is making an exceptional contribution to our understanding of the effectiveness of various methodologies for advancing the principles of good mental health to whole-self wellness.

Promising Results

By every indication, the message is hitting home across the state's immense cultural and demographic diversity. This spring, over 200 radio stations carried in excess of 600 "Say it out loud" airings. Two hundred fifty-seven newspapers with 3.1 million readers carried its ads. Twenty-three press release placements ranged from CentralIllinoisProud.com to Health & Medicine Week to the Los Angeles Times. Thirty-six SIOL billboards have caught the attention of Illinois motorists on some of the state's most heavily traveled routes. Print and electronic media have already permitted the campaign to reach over one million people.

Local community campaign organizers state that they are having difficulty keeping what was once thought to be a more than adequate supply of campaign promotional materials on hand. Plans are being formulated to leverage "Say it out loud" with other Division initiatives. For example, Supported Employment, a project promoting gainful private sector employment opportunities for persons coping with mental disorders is moving to incorporate "Say it out loud" as a key strategy to open doors.

Noting the deep reluctance of most Americans to not only refuse to seek help but even talk seriously about mental health, Dr. Anderson notes that one of the campaign's biggest advantages is that it is user-friendly. "It's easy to get involved," she explained. "Simply reach out and talk with a friend or colleague who is stressed and let them know you care, ask for help yourself, or talk to professionals such as teachers, social workers and your own physician about family issues and mental health or emotional concerns."

She goes on to state, "By the time the campaign ends in June, 2010, we hope to reach the majority of Illinois residents, to encourage them to be aware of mental health as key to their overall wellbeing, to raise the subject with others, to seek more information and to get help if they need it."

Joining with State and Local Community Leaders and Volunteers is Key

Along with Dr. Anderson, DHS Secretary Carol Adams, DMH Director Lorrie Rickman Jones and ICMHP Executive Director Barbara Shaw have all emphasized the compelling need to expand efforts to reach people of all ages, targeting not only young adults, but parents and caregivers desiring information on child development or who suspect that their child or a family member may be dealing with a mental health challenge. Federal mental health officials have been briefed on "Say it out loud" and have applauded the campaign's message, objectives and methodology for success.

Essential to that success is the active backing of state and local community leaders and volunteers across the full range of health, social services and private sector occupations. According to 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 imbalances, a particular situation or series of events, an illness, or any combination of those factors." Consequently, campaign objectives must not be limited to a particular population segment or rely solely on the support of mental health professionals to accomplish its mission. However, if and when an individual decides to get help, the degree and ease of access to professional services becomes crucial to obtaining proper treatment and support. Accordingly, "Say it out loud" must be especially cognizant of the immense value of being equally responsive to the mental health needs of the traditionally underserved.

For more information and ideas for promoting good mental health, visit online at www.mentalhealthillinois.org or call the Illinois Collaborative for Access and Choice toll-free consumer and family care line at 866-359-7953. Interested in taking an active and ongoing role in the campaign? Contact either Special Assistant to the DMH Director Michael Pelletier or Public Affairs Coordinator, John Banks-Brooks.