WISE tackles stigma of mental illness

While one in four Americans face mental health conditions during any given year, “the vast majority are living with really strong resiliency and recovery,” according to Sue McKenzie, facilitative co-leader of The Wisconsin Initiative for Stigma Elimination (WISE).

The statewide coalition, which launched in May in honor of Mental Health Month, is determined to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues by sharing the success stories of individuals in recovery.

According to McKenzie, who is also director of Rogers InHealth, getting to know people living with mental illness is among the most effective approaches to weakening stigma.

“Knowing more (about mental illness) doesn’t necessarily reduce stigma,” McKenzie said. “It’s more having a relationship with people who are living in recovery of mental illness.”

In addition to helping individuals with mental health issues learn how to talk about their experiences, WISE introduces a model for stigma reduction to workplaces throughout Wisconsin. The coalition also acts as a consultation agency, coaching organizations and businesses to apply the model to their specific culture.

“We’re trying to increase inclusion, solidarity and hope,” McKenzie said in echo of WISE’s mantra.

WISE is currently based out of Rogers InHealth in Oconomowoc. The coalition is constructed of a fabric of close to 30 mental health-minded agencies and nonprofit organizations from across the state, including The Charles E. Kubly Foundation, DryHootch, Faith Partnership Network, Kenosha County Division of Mental Health, Latino Health Coalition, and Milwaukee Center for Independence.

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