Mercer County launched the “Stigma Free Mercer” campaign May 1, the start of Mental Health Awareness Month, when county employees gathered to sign a pledge calling for increased awareness and greater understanding of mental illness and addiction, with a promise to work to eliminate stigma and discrimination within the community.
“Mercer County recognizes the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said. “Stigma is a misperception about people that leads to discrimination and other negative consequences. We intend to raise awareness about the impact of stigma on those experiencing a mental illness, as well as the impact on their families and other people in their lives, with the goal of making Mercer County a stigma-free community.”
Hughes said the public is invited to join the campaign by filling out the short pledge form posted on the Mercer County website. He also encourages the county’s 12 municipalities to adopt resolutions declaring their commitment to increasing awareness and understanding of mental illnesses and reducing stigma and discrimination.
Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the World Health Organization. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year and nearly 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. lives with a serious mental illness, while approximately 1 in 5 teens ages 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
“Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being,” Hughes said, “but often people suffer in silence because the world responds negatively to those with a mental health issue. Our response to those experiencing a mental illness must be sensitive, informed and respectful. It must create an environment for hope and healing, and it must address blame and stigma.”
The County of Mercer, through the Department of Human Services and its Division of Mental Health, funds and supports numerous local mental health agencies to provide help for those with mental health challenges. For more information, call the Mercer County Division of Mental Health at (609) 989-6529 or visit mercercounty.org.