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Dismantling stigma: Oaklawn billboard reveals faces of mental health awareness

The Truth - 5/6/2017

May 06--ELKHART -- Oaklawn wants to peel away mental health stigma one piece at a time and did just that during an event Friday.

To kick off Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Oaklawn officials made a large billboard with 1,000 square tiles spelling out "stigma." Underneath the tiles are photos of community members that have treated their mental health and addition issues, showing the hope that is out there for those who suffer, said Kari Tarman, marketing and communications manager for Oaklawn.

"We're going to reveal the people in our community that live with a mental illness or addiction and the people who joined with them on their journey toward recovery," Tarman said. "We want to normalize the conversation around mental health and additiction."

She said one in five people will suffer from a mental health issue every year.

Oaklawn President and CEO Laurie Nafziger said that despite the progress that has been made since Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949, people still are afraid to come forward and talk about their issues and seek help.

"The stigma still persists," Nafziger said. "This stigma prevents people from asking for help when they need it."

Nafziger recommends that to battle the mental health and addiction stigmas people should participate in mental health awareness events, educate themselves about illness and addiction and advocate for those that are suffering.

"It impacts us all," she said.

Oaklawn client David Smail also spoke during the ceremony, before joining Nafziger in peeling off the first two tiles off the stigma board. Smail said he suffers from Type 1 bipolar disorder and didn't begin to understand what the problem was until he received a diagnosis, accepted help and started taking medication.

"Even when I was in the grips of the first mania, I didn't know enough about mental illness or myself to know what it was," he said.

Smail said giving speeches and educating others can help others like him that suffer from issues such as addiction and mental illness.

"I like to give these talks because they show the face of mental illness," he said. "I'm OK becoming the face of mental illness because I want people to know there's a lot of us that have been through all this and are doing well."

With the stigma wall, Smail no longer has to be the only face of successful mental health treatment. He can be one of several faces.


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