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Group Spreading Message Against Mental Illness Stigma
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The Centers for Disease Control says 1 in 4 American adults has a mental illness. The report also found Mississippi had the highest rate of depression in the nation. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, a group in Jackson County is spreading the word that mental illness is common – and how to get help.

“We have key chains and notepads – would you like one?”

A small group of volunteers offer free goodies – and information – to students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Gautier.

“This is National Day Without Stigma. We want everyone to know that it’s perfectly OK, if you have a problem, no matter how big or how small, it’s OK to talk about it.”

That’s Carrie Pate of Gulf Coast Family Counseling Agency, an Ocean Springs-based private non-profit supported by the United Way.

Pate says she hopes students walk away realizing that everyone has problems – and it’s ok to talk about them.

“We have a tendency to say, ‘oh no, if we feel anything but happy there is something wrong with us,’” she says. “And that doesn’t make any sense. We’re all humans. Humans have a huge range of emotions, and all of them are OK and all of them are important. The thing is to understand what they mean and how to handle them. And we’re here to tell the people of Mississippi the truth about that.”

Studies have shown that most mental illnesses begin before the age of 25.

“Our mental health coalition at United Way is targeting youth between the ages of 15 and 24,” says Donna Stewart, who is with the United Way for Jackson and George Counties, one of the organizers of the event. “We’re here today to let the students here know that testing is coming up, there’s a lot of stress when you leave high school and go to college, a lot of things are changing for you. And we want them to know that this is the time when you may need to reach out to someone.”

She adds: “We want young people to know that it’s OK to talk if they have a problem, it’s OK to reach out to someone. There’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness or needing to talk to someone. It’s no different than having diabetes or high blood pressure. And we encourage them to go and to speak to someone before the problem gets a little too much for them to handle.”

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, like many other colleges and universities around the state, offers counseling on all of its campuses.

“We do have mental health services available here on campus,” says Sonya Edwards, head of student life on the Jackson County campus. “We have a licensed professional counselor who is available in our counseling and career center, and her services are free of charge. And we want them to know there are other resources here in the community that they can take advantage of.”