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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a perfect time for us to join forces as Michiganians to combat stigma and support persons with mental health issues on their road to recovery.

If we join forces — from the state and local level, from the rural and urban parts of our great state, Republicans and Democrats — together we can help eradicate stigma that prevents too many people in our state from seeking help. Mental health is just as important as physical health and impacts every zip code in Michigan. This is only complicated by the stigma associated with it.

While one in four adults will experience a mental health issue in a given year, only about two-thirds of those people will seek treatment. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs that people often avoid treatment due to societal shame and stigma. The fear of prejudice and being ostracized by family, coworkers and friends leads many with treatable mental health issues to conceal their conditions. The fear of being shunned is a heavy weight to cast aside as one battles a serious mental health issue. We are committed to improving the lives and quality of healthcare for individuals living and dealing with these issues.

It is important for Michiganians, with and without mental health issues, to speak out and break the cycle of shame and stigma that impedes recovery. Imagine having cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure, and being afraid to tell someone about it for fear of society’s reaction. Mental health issues are not something to be ashamed of. They are diseases of the brain that are not in a person’s control.

Decades ago, people suffering from mental health issues were sent away and institutionalized. Today, things are better, but stigmatizing beliefs still lead to discrimination in the housing market, in employment, in education and even lead to violence against those with the disease. People with mental health issues are more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

It’s time to change the perspective and ensure that people with mental health issues receive the safety, quality treatment, respect, understanding and a pathway to recovery they deserve.

The difficulty of dealing with mental health issues does not need to be compounded by society’s misunderstanding of its causes. Yet beliefs still persist that those with mental health issues are inherently dangerous, untrustworthy, hopeless, or irreparable. These generalizations are contrary to the evidence. In fact, some of humanity’s most beloved contributors and today’s celebrities and have been touched by mental health issues.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to recover. But those burdened by stigma and shame come to believe the myths about mental health issues and are left hopeless and as if the disease was their fault.

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority recently partnered with the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, a Michigan-based foundation dedicated to improving mental health treatment, to produce an educational television documentary entitled, “Opening Minds, Ending Stigma.”

The documentary sheds light on the varying perspectives of those affected by mental health issues from all walks of life. This documentary will help to educate communities, as ignorance makes it easier for society to blame persons with diseases of the brain and prevent them from obtaining the treatment and support they need.

We all have a role to play when it comes to ending stigma. By increasing our awareness of mental health, we can create a world where people with these diseases feel safe. You can expand your awareness by tuning in to “Opening Minds, Ending Stigma,” which airs on CBS Detroit on Sat. May 23rd at 7 p.m., or by visiting www.dwmha.com or www.flinnfoundation.org to watch it.

Awareness is the first step toward changing behavior. Think before you mock someone with a mental health issue or consider them flawed, weak and unworthy of assistance.

If you, or someone you know needs help with a mental health issue, intellectual/developmental disability or substance use disorder call the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority crisis line at 1-800-241-4949.

Together, we can eradicate stigma and help those with mental health issues live productive lives.

Brian Calley is Lt. Governor and served as the co-chair of the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission.

Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.

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