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The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition’s Join the Conversation awareness campaign is expanding to Niagara County with a $45,000 grant from the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH). The coalition’s campaign promotes mental health awareness and fights the stigma surrounding mental illness, which can be a barrier preventing people from seeking the help and treatment they need.

The coalition has implemented a comprehensive, multi-media campaign in Erie County, including broadcast, website, social media, digital advertising, email and grassroots tools to get the message out. They have tested the effectiveness of the campaign with a third-party polling organization that surveys community attitudes and have found the campaign is making a positive difference in people’s views of mental illness and treatment.

“This effort to expand the Anti-Stigma Coalition's Join the Conversation campaign to Niagara County has come at a very needed time,” said Laura J. Kelemen, LCSW-R, director, Niagara County Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, calls for help to Niagara County Crisis Services have increased by more than 30%. People are struggling with the effects of anxiety, depression, isolation, substance use and many are reluctant to seek help due to stigma. The more we can expand the conversation, sharing resources and successes, the more we can have a positive impact,” Kelemen said.

The coalition’s website and social media platforms engage the public and encourage people to learn about mental health and take a pledge to end the stigma of mental illness. To date, more than 3,500 individuals have taken this pledge. The coalition also provides valuable information regarding resources in the community as well as individual stories of struggle and success. The sixteen founding members of the coalition consist of a cross section of agencies in the community as well as Erie County government.

The decision was made to expand the campaign into neighboring Niagara County because with 87,000 households it is second most populous county, after Erie, in the Western New York region. The coalition will use the grant funds to increase its digital and social media advertising buy, print Niagara-County specific materials, and conduct outreach and other events in the county.

The Coalition’s website ,letstalkstigma.org, provides information on their work, the awareness campaign and the resources available to people in Erie and Niagara Counties. The website also features video stories of people who have faced stigma and addressed their mental health issues along with previously aired TV spots.

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