SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)
San Luis Obispo, California
SLOtheStigma is a mental health awareness and stigma reduction campaign. The first of its kind in San Luis Obispo County, the goals of this campaign are to increase awareness of mental health issues, decrease the stigma of mental illness, and guide individuals who have a mental illness and their families to local mental health resources.
In 2010, Transitions-Mental Health Association collaborated with 20|20 Creative Group to produce a 15-minute documentary telling the stories of four San Luis Obispo County residents with depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Compassionately weaving together these poignant stories, SLOtheStigma conveyed the message that regular people have mental illness; that their lives do not have to be governed by it; and that treatment can lead to fulfilling, happy lives.
SLOtheStigma was specifically directed at San Luis Obispo (SLO) in California, a county with a population of 265,297. While we consider the project a success, it is only a first step. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSHA’s) 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20 percent of adult Americans—or one in five—had a mental illness in 2010, and out of the 45.9 million American adults reporting a mental illness in the 2010 survey, only 39.2 percent got treatment that year. According to SAMSHA’s brochure What a Difference a Friend Makes: Social Acceptance is Key to Mental Health Recovery, "One of the main reasons why people don’t seek help is because of the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma is a big barrier to recovery."
SLOtheStigma’s Director, Alec Ramsey, is Creative Director and Co-Owner of 20|20 Creative Group, a brand marketing firm in San Luis Obispo. “In preparation for this project our team spent a lot of time researching personal stories of people’s day-to-day struggles living with mental illness. I was deeply moved and genuinely changed by these firsthand accounts. These stories became our inspiration and model formula for the campaign. We developed the name ‘SLOtheStigma’ to localize the campaign and distinguish it from other national initiatives. It also created a mystery factor that begs the question: What stigma? Thematically, the secrecy we built around the campaign mirrors the painstaking efforts some individuals go through to hide their own mental illness from others for fear of judgment. By shedding light on these stories and showing how prevalent they are, our hope is that people will feel safer coming forward and getting the help they need.”
The documentary was one component of a broad effort to decrease stigma and raise public awareness of mental illnesses and treatment. By July 2011 we had reached 80 percent of our county’s population through billboards, print ads, TV commercials, radio spots, guerrilla marketing at public events, screenings, presentations, and outreach events, as well as from local media mentions from press releases. Our Web site, http://www.slothestigma.org, received 16,552 total visits (13,097 of which were unique).
We maintained a constant presence on our social media sites including Facebook and Twitter. As of June 30, 2011 we had 327 friends/fans and 146 posts on Facebook and 334 followers and 144 tweets on Twitter. We also sent out 14 email blasts reaching a total of 8,706 people.
A survey was available online at SLOtheStigma.org and with 751 total surveys completed—597 of those had a positive impact, 5 had negative impact, 72 reported no impact, and 77 were not asked the question about impact.
Jill Bolster-White, Executive Director of Transitions, has received very positive feedback about the “SLO the Stigma” campaign. “It has raised an awareness and curiosity that is slowly transitioning into a more permanent educational tool throughout our community. This is an issue that affects our entire community and this campaign has set the tone for a much greater awareness. The more the community knows about mental illness and the recovery process, the more successfully the implemented educational impact can be.”
“This campaign has exceeded all of my expectations,” explains Ramsey. “It’s been so satisfying to see the impact, to see how much it has affected people. The true test is the viewing audience—when you see tears as feedback, you know you’ve succeeded. Where there has been apprehension for many to share stories before, this documentary lends them a voice. Professionals have also offered a great deal of praise and mentioned how urgently this message is needed in our community.”
Amanda Nelson, one of the four participants in this documentary, has had an amazing journey this past year. “Often, people who have seen me in commercials come up to me now on the street to share their own stories,” she explains. “Sharing a big part of my life with others has helped raise my own comfort level, as well.”
Frank Warren, the Mental Health Services Act Division Manager with the County of San Luis Obispo’s Behavioral Health Department, was also a key player in this campaign. “This campaign has been a proactive, collaborative approach between the public and private sectors. Mental health issues such as depression have not been openly discussed in the community whether in the schools or elsewhere. When it comes to stigma, until we change the paradigm, what does help mean?” As an example of its community-wide effectiveness, SLOtheStigma helped bridge the gap between County Mental Health Services and Drug and Alcohol Services. “Both entities embraced this concept and took ownership of it. It’s a huge connector of the two agencies, acting as a natural anchor,” explains Warren.
Feedback from local service providers:
• A fabulous and most informative film that is easy to understand and elicits viewer's empathy.
• Excellent resource for families and friends of persons with mental illness, excellent resource for persons with mental illness
• I think this is a great program and we need to continue doing the necessary outreach to make sure our community is aware that these services are available.
• It has been a great conversation starter and support for those who are wondering about and concerned for those who truly can be misunderstood, I hope that this trend continues, that is, to talk and share our lived experience on a level playing field—and empower each other to embrace wellness.
• It is done beautifully and so respectfully. I think that it has made a wonderful difference.
An amazing outcome of our outreach efforts through this campaign came in the community collaborations we formed. One such collaboration came about with students at Cal Poly University. After presenting SLOtheStigma to 700 Cal Poly Week of Welcome (WOW) student leaders during their training to gear up for WOW, a group of students became inspired to create a documentary aimed at college-age youth regarding mental health awareness on campus. Transitions-Mental Health Association collaborated with the 2011 Cal Poly University Week of Welcome Awareness Committee to create a 20-minute documentary that discusses topics such as stress and the seriousness of depression and suicide aimed at college-age youth called Our Personal Journeys Mental Health Awareness on Campus. This film was shown to over 4,000 incoming freshman during the fall of 2011 and will continue to be shown during WOW in the future. Transitions-Mental Health Association is also presenting this film out in the community.
Marketing and Outreach Coordinator
Transitions-Mental Health Association
P.O. Box 15408
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406