Campaign seeks to dispel myths about mental illness

Four local stars of a documentary about mental illness have seen their share of pain: crushing feelings of isolation and apathy; crippling anxiety about one’s path in life; even a mood swing that led to an arrest.

But they are now calm, composed, even happy. And they are not unique.

The 15-minute documentary “SLO the Stigma” and a publicity campaign of the same name aim to show how many people suffer from mental illness — and that by reaching out for help, they can lead fulfilling lives.

Hannah Brown, spokeswoman for Transitions Mental Health Association, said the goal of the SLO the Stigma campaign is to “dispel scariness” about mental illness. People might think of mental illnesses as “out there,” or “inaccessible,” she said.

Officials estimate that as many as one in five — more than 50,000 people in San Luis Obispo county — might have a variety of symptoms of bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia.

The campaign — a collaboration between Transitions Mental Health Association and 20/20 Creative group — is one of several programs funded through the Mental Health Services Act or Proposition 63.

Approved by California voters in 2004, the ballot measure imposed an extra 1 percent income tax on incomes over $1 million.

It’s estimated to increase the annual budget of the county’s Behavioral Health Services Department by $2.3 million, or 10 percent, according to the county. The SLO the Stigma campaign will cost $150,000 over two years ending in June 2011.

Frank Warren, program supervisor for prevention and early intervention services at county Behavioral Health, described the SLO the Stigma campaign as a “cornerstone” project for the county, because every program funded by Proposition 63 has an important component of changing the stigma of mental illness.

We too often ascribe mental illness to “the person who talks to himself on the bus,” Warren said.


Visit www.slothestigma.org to watch the documentary and find a list of support resources. The advertising campaign also encourages people to call the new SLO Hotline at 1-800-549-4499 to reach a counselor who can provide confidential, bi-lingual emotional support, suicide prevention and referrals to free and low-cost treatment.