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Cultivating a community of compassion


May was Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and the importance of caring for our mental well-being. It reminds us that mental health is as crucial as physical health and deserves our attention, care, and action. 

St. Clair County Community Mental Health is aware of the progress made to ensure that our community understands the care needed to ensure that all of our residents have the appropriate tools and resources to properly care for their mental well-being. However, we are also keenly aware of a significant obstacle that remains—stigma. Despite increased awareness and education efforts, too many still suffer in silence, afraid to speak up or seek help due to fear of judgment, discrimination, or lack of understanding. 

“Statistics are sobering,” says Deb Johnson, CEO of St. Clair County Community Mental Health (SCCCMH). “One in five adults in the United States live with a mental health condition, and more than 40 percent of adults and adolescents in St. Clair County reported feeling depressed in the last year. Yet, stigma prevents over half of those individuals from accessing the care they need and deserve.” 
Deb Johnson, CEO of St. Clair County Community Mental Health
Stigma casts a shadow over individuals grappling with behavioral health conditions, fostering a culture of shame. It manifests in many harmful ways – from derogatory language and negative stereotypes to bullying, social exclusion, and discrimination in employment, housing, and healthcare. It perpetuates isolation and worsening symptoms that too often prove deadly. The human cost is immeasurable. 

“We cannot accept this as the status quo,” says Kathleen Gallagher, Chief Clinical Officer at SCCCMH. “We must continue working to drown out the whispers of stigma with messages and actions of empathy, acceptance, and support for those struggling. We must understand that behind every diagnosis is a unique individual – a person with dreams, fears, and inherent worth.”

It starts with education – shattering myths, increasing mental health knowledge, and having open and honest dialogue about these issues in our community, schools, workplaces, and homes. It requires amplifying the courageous stories of those thriving with mental health conditions to inspire others. It demands ongoing advocacy to improve access to affordable, quality mental healthcare as a basic human right. 
Kathleen Gallagher,Chief Clinical Officer at St. Clair County Community Mental Health.
Most importantly, it calls on each one of us to examine our conscious and unconscious biases, to choose more thoughtful language, and to extend the same compassion to loved ones battling depression or addiction as we would those facing any other illness. Stigma stems from a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding that mental health is inseparable from overall health and wellness. 

“Through our collective action, we can dismantle the unjust barriers of stigma,” says Johnson. “We can begin by speaking out, educating ourselves, and showing up for those who need you most, including yourself. Doing so can create a community of true inclusion, acceptance, and recovery for all. We have an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the incredible resilience of the human spirit.” 

We have a dynamic opportunity. Alongside the evidence-based practices, broad access to services, and community education and support offered by SCCCMH, we can chart a new course with the community for every resident’s mental well-being. Cultivating a community where individuals feel seen, heard, and valued will build bridges to wellness, allowing us to nurture hope, healing, and resilience. 

SCCCMH offers free Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to residents of St. Clair County. MHFA helps begin the conversation about mental health and substance use by teaching people how to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health or substance use challenges. Research shows that individuals trained in MHFA have a reduced fear or hesitation to take action, and it decreases stigma. To learn more about MHFA or to register for an upcoming presentation, visit Mental Health First Aid – St. Clair County Community Mental Health (scccmh.org).

For more information on services and support available through St. Clair County Community Mental Health, we encourage you to visit www.scccmh.org. You’ll find resources, program information, and ways to connect to services if needed online. You can also search St. Clair County Community Mental Health on Facebook for information on caring for your mental well-being and programs offered to the public to build your resilience toolbox. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, the Mobile Crisis Unit is free to any St. Clair County residents, 24/7, year-round, by calling 810-966-2575. 

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