Strength In Our Voices: Working Together to Reduce Stigma Associated With Mental Health


Blue Doors LockedWe’ve come a little way in reducing the stigma that’s associated with mental illness, but not nearly far enough. Consider these results pulled from a public attitude survey in Tarrant County, Texas, conducted by the county’s Mental Health Connection and the University of North Texas in Denton to determine the community’s view of mental illness:

  • More than 50 percent believe major depression might be caused by the way someone was raised, while more than one in five believe it is “God’s will.”
  • More than 50 percent believe major depression might result from people “expecting too much from life,” and more than 40 percent believe it is the result of a lack of willpower.
  • More than 60 percent said an effective treatment for major depression is to “pull yourself together.”

Unfortunately, these beliefs are often held by those closest to us — by the very people from whom we so desperately want support.

Every now and then I come across a group of people working tirelessly to reduce the stigma and like to feature their work.

SIOVLogoWhiteGlow11-01-e1480880408529Strength In Our Voices is a nonprofit organization started by a group of young, diverse adults who have experienced stigma associated with mental health – in their own journey or in the journey of friends and families. Challenged by those experiences, they felt compelled to work toward eliminating stigma in creative ways: open dialogue, education, empowerment, and public events.

Their next event is their flagship charity event on May 6th, SiOV’s Second Annual Summer of Strength. Last year the organization raised enough money to bring an evidence-based teen suicide prevention program, Sources of Strength (SoS), to McLean High School in Fairfax County.

This year’s event will be held at the Rosewood Hotel in Georgetown, DC. They are dedicating the funds to two initiatives:

  1. Bringing Sources of Strength to Longfellow Middle School, which feeds into McLean High School.  By further integrating SoS into the community, they believe this will make a lasting mark in the high rates of teen suicide that this community has faced.
  2. Funding an SiOV Director to become a certified SoS regional director.  This will enable SiOV to bring prevention programs to multiple schools in the future at a fraction of the cost, and also free up SiOV funds to expand their reach into additional forms of programming in the future.

If you are interested in attending the charity event, follow this link to purchase a ticket.  You can also make a donation to their donations portal here (or on Venmo @StrengthInVoices).

Check out their website and FB page  to learn more.





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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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12 Responses
  1. kdn

    Stigma comes from the labels that are assigned to individuals by psychiatrists (using the DSM checklist). We need to remember that these labels are given in the absence of any brain differences between normal people and people who are considered to be “mentally ill” (note: there are no objective tests because there are no brain differences). Receiving a label itself can result in a lot of anguish for an individual (and of course how people react to that person with the label = stigma). This is a situation that needs to be addressed. The current practice of labeling only benefits pharmaceutical companies that has an excuse to come up with various pills for numerous “disorders” (using a hit or miss approach) – we need to remember that these are pills given in the absence of any neural problems in patients.

    1. Michael Webb

      Friend, I’m afraid you’ve been reading too many anti-drug and anti-psychiatry sites. While mental disorders are not routinely diagnosed via brain scans (most likely as a cost factor), it’s been known and documented for some years that the brain activity of a person with a given mental disorder (such as major depression, which I have) is similar to that of others with the same disorder and distinctly different from people with other disorders or no known disorder at all. I’ve also been told by someone who could be expected to know this matter accurately that one day scans may be usable as diagnostic tools to identify which medication(s) are most likely to work with a given person.
      As for stigma, I don’t know that there has been a time when stigma against people with mental disorders HASN’T existed. I see it pretty plainly as the refusal of society to accept that mental disorders are real medical conditions and preferring to accept (among other things) that our conditions are the result of character flaws such as laziness. I see it all the time.
      And no, I am NOT a mental health professional or medical person of any type, nor am I an employee of a pharmaceutical company or anything else you may wish to accuse me of being. I am simply a person who was forced to accept BY OVERWHELMING PERSONAL EXPERIENCE that my “thinker” was malfunctioning and I needed medical help. Period.

      1. kdn

        Michael: There is no evidence at all for your statement “brain activity of a person with a given mental disorder is similar to that of others with the same disorder and distinctly different from people with other disorders or no known disorder at all” – that is a myth promoted by pharmaceutical companies. Also, you need to know that mind states gradually influence the structure of the brain (this is called ‘neuroplasticity’) – for example, many studies have shown that psychological stresses brings about gradual changes in the brain (I can give references if you like) – these changes are reversible by psychological means. What people who experience ‘mental pain’ need is HOPE. But what the psychiatric community does is to tell the patients that they have a particular “disorder” (give a fancy name from DSM), and also often state that “these are long-term conditions” – now that itself is devastating for an individual, and can result in additional psychological stress (plus stigma, which can also be quite stressful at a social level). These stresses gradually change the structure of the brain as well. In other words, ‘mental pain’ is a result of human experience, and any changes in the brain come AFTER prolonged stress.

      2. kdn

        Here’s the research article that provide evidence of hardly any brain differences in different disorders:

        Sprooten, E., Rasgon, A., Goodman, M., Carlin, A., Leibu, E., Lee, W. H. and Frangou, S. (2017), Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta-analyses of task-related brain activation in common mental disorders. Hum. Brain Mapp., 38: 1846–1864. doi:10.1002/hbm.23486

      3. Jane

        I agree with you totally, Michael.
        kdn is totally inaccurate and needs to do some
        research on the Harvard University Dept of
        Psychiatry scholarly journal site.

        1. kdn

          Jane: Please google and check out the following article: “Does Understanding the Brain Help us to Understand Ourselves?” (published today).

  2. Hi Therese. My name is Maureen Doyle and I live in Dublin Ireland. I am getting involved with a trialalogue on Mental Health dealing with changing the stigma attached to Mental Health sufferers. This group involves service users, family members and professionals. My first meeting with the organisers of this new starting foundation takes place in June. This trialalogue is already up and running and I look forward to being a part of it and them.

  3. Thanks Therese for the link you have provided. I will use this when I attend my Trialogue meeting in June and will inform them of your site. I hate the stigma attached to Mental Health and now will start my journey here in Ireland. I have just started my own blog
    Mo Doyle My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder and how to live with Bipolar disorder 11
    I hope you will follow and maybe advise me. This is my first attempt at a blog. Best wishes my friend X

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more, Therese! There’s such a negative stigma that shadows the term mental health; I know many of my clients struggled to seek help just because of that. I’m so happy you’re feauturing an organization who can help everyone win this fight! Thank you!