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Colorado Campaign Tackles Stigma Of Mental Illness

By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) - According to Mental Health Colorado, more than a million Coloradans struggle with a mental health condition. Half of them go without treatment.

There is a stigma around mental illness. People feel embarrassed and ashamed. Now, a coalition of organizations in Colorado wants to change that by getting people talking.

Sara Stewart is interviewed by CBS4's Kathy Walsh (credit: CBS)

Sara Stewart believes talking about mental illness is critical.

"Drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence type of environment," Stewart said that was how she grew up.

She moved out at 17, had a baby and divorced by 22. She repeated the cycle, got hooked on methamphetamine and then alcohol. She knew she had a mental illness, but wouldn't admit it.

"It's the whole just kind of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' crazy. You probably shouldn't be around your kids and you shouldn't be doing this and you shouldn't be doing that," said Stewart.

(credit: CBS)

The 36-year-old Stewart has bipolar disorder and a borderline personality disorder. She is now in therapy and on medications and says the support of her husband, David, helped save her.

"Just having somebody listen even if they can't understand 100 percent to be empathetic and to be open to different solutions makes all the difference," said Stewart.

"Let's keep talking about it," said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne.

On Monday, Lynne read a proclamation naming May, Mental Health Month. A new campaign called Let's Talk Colorado addresses the stigma. The campaign urges everyone to talk openly about mental health issues.

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne on Monday (credit: CBS)

"Making it okay to talk about mental health, to seek care about mental health, and frankly, to ask for help," said Dr. John Douglas, Executive Director of Tri-County Health Department, the agency leading the campaign.

Let's Talk Colorado indicates one in five people struggle with a mental health condition. In fact, people with mental health challenges like anxiety, depression or eating disorders are as common as silver cars.

"No one's ashamed to say. 'I have diabetes,' so why should you be ashamed to have depression or bipolar," said Stewart.

She encourages those suffering with a mental illness to find someone who will listen.

Let's Talk Colorado includes a website that has ideas on how to talk about mental illness, a toolkit of resources including a video, mental health stigma presentation, fliers and a newsletter.

The campaign stresses that talking about mental illness and a person's mental health struggles can "save a life," so it's worth dealing with some awkwardness or embarrassment at not knowing what to say.

The effort also emphasizes that treatment for mental health issues does help in most instances, so persons with mental health symptoms, like anxiety or trouble sleeping, should be urged to see a physician or therapist.

People who need immediate support due to a mental health crisis should contact, or have a family member or friend contact, Colorado Crisis Services at (844) 493-talk (8255). The agency has trained counselors who are available 24/7/365 to work with persons in crisis and the people supporting them.

Additional Resources

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talked about the shift in attitude and treatment on CBS4 This Morning with CBS4's Britt Moreno on Monday.

LINKS: Mental Health Colorado | #FindYourWords | Let's Talk Colorado

Kathy Walsh is CBS4's Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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