Last weekend 60 NAMI Metro Suburban members and supporters, along with their friends, neighbors and relatives, could be found Striking Down Stigma at Striker Lanes in Berwyn. We bowled some high scores and some gutter balls, had a lot of laughs, and enjoyed some great munchies. Did we rid the world of all mental health stigma? No, I cannot say we did. But did we make a dent? I would be inclined to say yes.
There are a number of ways we can reduce stigma and they don't all involve thousands of people holding up signs on Capitol Hill to show the importance of mental health as a national issue. Sometimes, they take place at a bowling alley instead. Here are just a few ways we reduced stigma at Striker Lanes.
1.Raising Awareness: While NAMI was bowling, others were utilizing the bowling alley as a gathering place to watch the Cubs game. They did not know anything about NAMI or our event. They just happened to be there at the same time we were. As the afternoon went on, a number of those individuals noticed a prize drawing that was part of our bowling fundraiser. Before we knew it, they were purchasing tickets in hopes of winning. As they did, they were asking questions about NAMI, about mental health, about what we do and how it helps. We were able to share our knowledge and educate others to break down stigma amongst a group of strangers.
2.Getting Involved: As we bowled, I was approached by individuals who, while they were there as event attendees, knew little of NAMI. They were there as friends and neighbors of NAMI supporters and were attending for the fun and friendship. As the afternoon progressed, I saw many of those people opening their eyes to the cause. Maybe they were thinking of others in their lives who they could support or maybe they felt the passion in the room as so many mission-driven, inspiring people came together to support a powerful cause. Whatever it was, it led them to want to give time to support NAMI and reduce stigma.
3.Being Inclusive: The Strike Down Stigma event did not have a single schizophrenic, bipolar or depressed person in attendance. There were; however, a number of people who live with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. In other words, no one was separated, made to feel less than, or labeled as their illness. Everyone was a person first and attended the event for the purpose of Striking Down Stigma.
Striking down stigma is something we can all do every day. We don't need a bowling alley, an event, or even a crowd. We simply need to open our mouths, to speak up and speak out. Everyone can share their own experience or the experiences of loved ones. Anyone can be cognizant of only using person-first language, avoiding labels or putting people living with mental health conditions in a box. I encourage you to spread the stigma-free message; either one person at a time or, when the opportunity presents itself, by joining a crowd of advocates and letting yourself be heard on a larger scale. Whether spoken in a bowling alley or shouted in front of the Capitol, every voice matters.
Written by: Nikki Rashes