Approximately 355,000 Sacramento County residents live with a mental illness, but only one-third of those individuals will seek professional help, primarily due to the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. In response, Sacramento County launched the “Mental Illness: it’s not always what you think” project in 2012, featured on billboards throughout the region. The project aims at eliminating stigma and discrimination toward people living with mental illness; promoting mental health and wellness; and, inspiring hope for people and families living with mental illness every day.
The theme, “everyday people,” features images of individuals reflective of Sacramento County’s diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic communities. However, when the project first launched three years ago in the Sacramento region, just two members living with mental illness were willing to serve as models for the project in the billboards and information materials: Native American Albert G. Titman, Sr. and Susan Jim. All other photos, except these two, were stock photos.
“As we entered the third year of the project, we hoped to update the advertising material with photos of real Sacramento County residents who live with a mental illness,” said Julie Leung, program planner with Sacramento County’s Department of Health & Human Services. “We reached out to stakeholders and community members to see if they knew of individuals who may want to share their personal stories of hope and recovery and be a part of the project materials.”
Six residents volunteered and are now featured on campaign billboards, which are displayed throughout the County through the end of May, and all of the photos will be of the residents who are really living with the illness and are now willing to show themselves with the expectation that their example will inspire others to seek help. One of these individuals is Katie Williams, a graduate student studying social work at Sacramento State, who also joined the project’s Speakers Bureau in 2012.
“I think it is important to show the world that there are very successful people living with mental illness and doing great things with their lives,” said Williams. “There is something so refreshing about knowing that your story can inspire others and can encourage them to keep going, despite their struggles.”
A recent project survey found that during the past three years, the number of people seeing the project advertisements is growing and becoming familiar with the campaign. Additionally, the survey indicates people increasingly say that they would engage in positive behaviors, such as talking more openly about mental illness or suggesting a friend or family member seek help.
For more information on the “Mental Illness: it’s not always what you think” project, please visit www.StopStigmaSacramento.org. Funding for this project has been made possible through the Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health Services Mental Health Services Act.