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Coalition launches to fight stigma of mental illness

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Organizers on Wednesday unveiled a new partnership that builds on a mental health initiative started in the local Jewish community.

The aim of the effort, known as the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition, is to broaden to other parts of the metropolitan area the message from the Jewish community that it’s all right to talk about mental illness.

Led by Jewish Family Services (JFS), the coalition is a bistate effort that includes providers, support groups, advocacy organizations and other nonprofits.

“I want mental illness to be like what happened to cancer in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when it was a hush-hush thing, and you would stop a conversation, and now you won’t,” said JFS CEO Don Goldman. “I want it to be like AIDS, a terrible disease that people are dealing with, but at least today, you can say (something), and somebody doesn’t get up and stop the conversation. They give you support.”

The initial focus of the new coalition, Goldman said, will be dissemination through member organizations of educational materials that the Jewish community developed. Future projects, he said, may include a billboard campaign and a mental health fair.

The coalition is online at www.itsOK.us.

Goldman said the coalition has received initial philanthropic support from the Hall Family Foundation and the Barton P. & Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust.

The coalition grew out of an initiative started a few years ago by JFS, the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City and a collection of volunteers. JFS officials said the volunteers initiated that effort because they felt they had not received help from the Jewish community in dealing with the effects of mental illness on their own lives.

The Jewish community launched its own anti-stigma campaign during the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall, with posters, postcards and other materials developed on a pro bono basis by Bernstein-Rein advertising agency.

Announcement of the new coalition came at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, where last month a southwest Missouri man – one with a history of anti-Semitism – allegedly began a shooting rampage that left three people dead at Jewish-affiliated facilities.

Authorities have not suggested that the suspect, Frazier Glenn Cross — an Aurora, Mo., man better known as F. Glenn Miller – had a mental illness.

Goldman said there was no symbolism intended in announcing the new coalition at the center.

Mental health advocates have, for years, tried to erase the stigma of mental illness. The time may be ripe for the message to finally sink in, Goldman said.

“You see athletes talking about this, you see stars talking about it,” he said. “I think this may be the time that people can start to look at this honestly and get past the fear.”

Major Funding for Health coverage on KCPT provided by Assurant Employee Benefits and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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