Eliminating the "Crazy" Stigma, One Photograph at a Time

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A local grassroots nonprofit launched a new campaign last month to eliminate the stigma that still shrouds mental health.

The "Stomp Out Stigma" campaign, also referred to as the SOS campaign, is spearheaded by a locally based organization, Youth In Mind. Through the campaign, the group hopes to influence dialogues about mental health, specifically focusing on discrimination youth face from providers and community members.

According to Youth In Mind president, Susan Manzi, it all began with one photograph. One of the group's primary organizers posted a snapshot of himself in his office cubicle holding a sign with his name and diagnosis, OCD. It wasn't long before other youth followed suite, unveiling themselves publicly in a world that values "normalcy" and "hegemony."

Youth In Mind started out as a collaborative effort among youth cycling through the mental health and justice systems to build leadership skills and influence mental health policies and funding decisions. Inspired by the state's move toward integrating mental health consumers into systems of care, embodied by the Mental Health Services Act, youth began to organize for inclusion in the new "peer provider boom."

With a little bit of grant money, the group launched. The nonprofit is membership based for youth ages 12 through 28 in California. More than 400 youth have become members of Youth In Mind throughout the state, with the purpose of creating a network of empowered young people willing to advocate for change in mental health services.

The most important step, according to Manzi, is creating family and community through the group's holistic approach. "It's the first moment people can come into a room and be who they are," she says. "Instead of looking at one another as disenfranchised, the youth identify themselves as leaders proactively shaping the future.
 
Stomp Out Stigma started on May 18, during Mental Health Awareness month, and concludes on Oct. 10, World Mental Health Day. Ten members are directing the campaign, using multimedia to create digital diaries and photographs to enhance their  visibility goal. "It's a simple but creative way of outing yourself," Manzi concludes.

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