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Mental illness can affect people of all ages, genders, cultures, ethnicities, and income levels. However, many people with a mental health diagnosis state that the stigma they experience can be worse than the illness itself.PLAN of Pennsylvania is preparing to launch an initiative with Dr. Guy Diamond, PhD at DrexelUniversity, a leader in adolescent psychiatry.  The Mental Health Toolkit will be positioned in schools throughout the Philadelphia region by spring of 2014. Following a wave of teenage suicides in the region Kelly Clarke, Executive Director of PLAN of PA, felt that this was a “call to action.” “It was difficult to hear of the alarming increase in teenage suicides and mental health disabilities becoming prevalent in our region.” A staggering amount of  individuals with mental health disabilities go  undiagnosed in this Country every year.  Mental Health providers need to work collaboratively and with a sense of urgency to reach our kids and to equip them with the tools to speak their truth,” said Clarke.

Our goal is help to break the stigma of mental illness, first locally and then nationally. The prime deterrent for speaking out about the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disabilities is stigmatization. Children and adults need to feel safe and not judged when experiencing the emotions that may lead to an irrevocable decision. Our Mental Health Toolkit Initiative is designed to change the attitudes and behaviors of people towards those living with mental health challenges. At present, there is no best practice for reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. One of our goals is to scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of anti-stigma programs and the direct correlation to suicide prevention.

By the age of 14 the signs of mental illness are evident in half of the population that will ever be properly diagnosed with a mental disorder. 80% of more severe cases go untreated in poor countries, 35-40% in richer countries. Mental disorders are associated with over 90% of all reported suicide cases.  In America more people die from suicide than cancer, homicide or HIV/AIDS.

Mental Illness has a significant impact on human productivity

  • Major depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide among those 5 years of age and older
  • Around the world, mental illness causes as many lost days of work as any physical problem such as heart attack, cancer, or back pain.
  •  Four of the ten leading causes of disability are mental disorders ( major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Mental illness, including suicide accounts for over 15% of the lost years of healthy life, also known as Disability Adjustment Life Years- more than all cancers, and second only to all cardiovascular conditions.


The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Opening Minds initiative is the largest effort to reduce mental health stigma in Canadian history. In collaboration with 65 partners and with 45 active projects across the country, Opening Minds aims to identify and evaluate anti-stigma programs to determine their effectiveness. The projects are aimed at following initial target groups: healthcare providers, youth between the ages of 12 and 18, the workforce, and the media. People in these groups either are the most at risk for mental illness, or have the most influence in combating mental health stigma. For example, people who seek treatment for mental health issues report that they typically experience the most stigmas from healthcare workers.
Source: Opening Minds – Mental Health Commission of Canada


The Mental Health Toolkit Initiative will be offered to Health Care Professionals to develop and evaluate programs that target negative attitudes by colleagues in the health profession. “We know that stigma is an issue in the healthcare system and that it affects professionals in two main ways: if healthcare professionals have negative attitudes to mental illness, this will often translate into stigmatizing behaviors that alienate patients, and stigma can also affect their own health. If a professional develops a mental illness, they might not seek care because they are worried about how their peers will perceive them,” explains Diamond.

REALITY:  these alarming statistics cannot be ignored: mental illness does not discriminate- it strikes people of all ethnic groups and economic brackets

  • 1 in 100 people develop schizophrenia
  • More than 2 in 100 develop bipolar disorder
  • Over 44 million people in the US – 1 in 5 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year and over 5 million people are disabled from severe mental illness.
  • Two new cases of mental illness occur in the US every second of every day totaling 66 million new cases each year.

PLAN of PA has developed a questionnaire to measure stigma in health professionals. It has been used in more than 20 studies across the country and has proven to be highly useful for comparing and evaluating different strategies for combating stigma. It has also allowed researchers to identify key characteristics of effective interventions. One of the most promising practices is contact-based education, where people who have experienced mental illness share their stories and engage health professionals in discussions. “This approach is all about breaking down barriers and understanding that a person with a mental illness is a person like yourself,” says Clarke.

“The cumulative effect of this project and many others is that we are making inroads combating stigma. However, old beliefs run deep, like thinking that people with mental illness should be able to pull themselves out of it. You do not hear that with other conditions—for example, no one would tell someone to will their thyroid gland to pump out more hormones. One can speculate about why these beliefs are so entrenched but whatever the reason, it needs to change.”

Someone once said, “It takes a village,” however, when it comes to saving our children from a debilitating and life threatening disease, it takes acceptance and understanding not a village.”


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