BUFFALO, N.Y. — Anyone who has driven along the 190 or 290 lately may have looked up and noticed a new billboard message designed to get people talking about mental illness.
"The billboards are very simple messages. There's Find Your Voice, there's We Hear You, More Talking, Less Whispering. When you open up the conversation, you reduce stigma, you reduce isolation," said Carol Doggett, Mental Health Association of Erie County.
The billboards are all part of the five-year "Join the Conversation" campaign launched in May to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.
"A lot of it is fear, fear of how you'll be treated if people think you have a mental health condition. A lot of it is simply not understanding what a mental health problem might be," said Doggett.
The web-based education campaign also looks to separate fact from fiction, as experts say 1 in 5 people across Western New York have a diagnosable mental health condition.
"If you sit in a room, it's either the person in front of you, behind you, next to you, or it could be you. So it's very widespread. We're all touched by it, but we don't talk about it," said Doggett.
"We all really have a bond of wanting to see the stigma elevated," said Max Donatelli, Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition chairman.
The Mental Health Association is one of 16 founding partners that comprise the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition.
"The stigma is out there. It's hurtful for those people that are experiencing it and the more able that they're able to be free to be able talk about it and talk about it with the right people, and they can actually recovery," said Donatelli.
Doggett agrees the stigma is often a barrier that prevents those suffering from getting the treatment they need.
"Family suffers, individuals suffer and there's no need to because there's help out there. I think you need to have patience, but not to give up," said Doggett.
Funding for the campaign comes from area foundations and Erie County.
Anyone wishing to know more can visit LetsTalkStigma.org.