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SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 3, Summer 2003

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Initiative Counters Stigma and Discrimination

SAMHSA recently launched an Elimination of Barriers Initiative in eight states: California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. The Initiative is a 3-year effort aimed at identifying effective public education approaches to combat the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illnesses.

"All Americans must understand that mental illnesses are illnesses that can be diagnosed reliably and treated effectively, and that recovery is possible," said SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W. "Sadly, misconceptions about mental illness continue, and many people hide their symptoms and avoid treatment. The Elimination of Barriers Initiative is designed to help more Americans understand the facts surrounding mental illness, reduce stigma, and increase their willingness to seek help for mental health problems."

The Initiative, funded with $5.4 million over 3 years, will allow for a series of meetings in each state to reach consensus on steps to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Strategies developed by the Initiative are expected to focus on opportunities for action in schools and businesses.

In any given year, about 5 to 7 percent of adults have a serious mental illness, according to several nationally representative studies. A similar percentage of children, about 5 to 9 percent, have a serious emotional disturbance. The annual prevalence figures translate into millions of adults and children disabled by mental illness. Almost half of these individuals do not seek treatment, in part because of the shame associated with mental illnesses in American society.

The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health-whose goal is to recommend improvements to enable adults with serious mental illnesses and children with serious emotional disturbances to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities-has identified stigma as one of the major barriers to mental health care in America. (See SAMHSA News, Volume X, Number 4; and Volume XI, Number 2.)

"All Americans must understand that mental illnesses are illnesses that can be diagnosed reliably and treated effectively, and that recovery is possible."

                      –Charles G. Curie, SAMHSA Administrator

To launch the Initiative, a state partnership meeting will take place in each of the target states. This meeting will provide an overview of the Elimination of Barriers Initiative, as well as a public forum for stakeholders and other interested parties to discuss ways to counter stigma and discrimination. This input will then be used to make the Initiative more effective.

For more information, contact SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center, P.O. Box 42490, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: 1 (800) 789-2647 or 1 (866) 889-2647 (TTY). Or, visit End of Article

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    SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 3, Summer 2003