Breaking Down Barriers Around Mental Illness

New PSA Effort Targets African-American Community

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A new public-service campaign to raise awareness of mental health problems among young African-American adults has been launched by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, working with the Ad Council and the Stay Strong Foundation. The effort was unveiled yesterday at Howard University during the first HBCU National Mental Health Awareness Day as part of Black History Month.

The effort, created pro bono by Grey, New York, for the Ad Council, is designed to educate young adults about mental health problems and to encourage those individuals to talk about these problems in an effort to promote greater acceptance in the African-American community. The effort, which includes TV, radio, print and online, highlights real stories of African-Americans dealing with mental health problems and direct people to go online to learn more.

Terrie M. Williams, co-founder of the Stay Strong Foundation, an organization that works to support, educate and inspire African-American youth, collaborated on the Web videos and PSA materials.

According to SAMHSA, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are widespread in the U.S. and often misunderstood. In 2008, according to SAMHSA, an estimated 9.8 million U.S. adults age 18 and older were living with serious mental illnesses, with the highest occurrence in the 18-to-25 age group, including 6 percent of African-Americans. At the same time, SAMHSA said, 58.7% of Americans with serious mental illness had received care in the past 12 months, with 44.8% of African-Americans getting services in that time period.

"In general, mental health problems are difficult to talk about," said Rob Baiocco, exec VP-executive creative director of Grey New York, in announcing the campaign. "But the second someone opens up and tells their specific personal story, you instantly realize what they are dealing with. It's such an immediate, intuitive and emotional understanding. And from that understanding comes the healing."

The Ad Council and SAMHSA first debuted the Campaign for Mental Health Recovery nationally in December 2006. Additional efforts targeting Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans will be launched this spring.

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