The familiar ads with the blank comic-book conversation bubble rising leadenly to the ceiling appeared again this fall in Minnesota, thanks to the ongoing “Make It OK” campaign to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
While the media spots still featured people awkwardly trying to talk after a diagnosis, thoughtful changes laudably broadened this vital Minnesota public health initiative’s reach. “Silence hurts,” a key theme of the campaign was translated to “El silencio duele” to help the region’s many Spanish-speakers fight off the shame or embarrassment that regrettably can still accompany a diagnosis.
Ads featuring African-American families as well as senior citizens, who may wrestle with less-enlightened beliefs from their youth, also helped Make It OK’s message resonate even more strongly.
In an age where data mining has documented shameful gaps in health and well-being among minority communities, the campaign’s evolution was especially welcome — and needed. Health disparities remain a daunting public health challenge even as the Affordable Care Act improves access to medical care.
With an estimated one out of four Americans experiencing a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder annually, pragmatic efforts like Make It OK can encourage people to seek care and encourage support from family members and friends. This message is particularly important in minority communities. A recent federal report showed that African-Americans and Hispanics are less likely to utilize mental health services than whites.
Make It OK is the result of a collaboration that includes HealthPartners, Regions Hospital, NAMI-Minnesota and many community organizations. Even though this fall’s media spots have ended, the Star Tribune Editorial Board encourages this campaign to continue to adapt and focus on disparities going forward.
HealthPartners leadership responded commendably when contacted last week. CEO Mary Brainerd not only welcomed the call to continue this outreach, she then outlined opportunities inherent in strengthening partnerships with community organizations. Doing so would add depth and breadth to an important public health campaign already providing a vital service to Minnesota.