HealthPartners works to 'Make it OK in the Valley'
Hudson Hospitals and its HealthPartners branch is leading a grassroots effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness and "Make it OK in the Valley."
The valley program — run by HealthPartners hospital and clinics and local agencies like St. Croix County — is a localized version of the national "Make it OK" campaign. The wider campaign started in 2012, but last year leaders at local HealthPartners hospitals and in the community wanted to further explore the idea specifically in the St. Croix Valley, Marna Canterbury, director of community health for Lakeview Hospital said.
"How can we bring this to our community in a really deeper way?" Canterbury said. "People were just ready to dive in."
The local program is designed around community involvement. The work of community members, stepping up and taking responsibility in the program is critical, Canterbury said.
"This isn't a program like expert-to-expert," she said. " All of us can play a role."
One of the biggest pieces is an ambassador training program, an in-depth, two-hour training that provides community members with the tools and knowledge of the Make it OK Program. Canterbury said the training then allows these members to share what they learned with their own community and circle of influence.
"Someone could go out and talk at their church or at their book club or at a school about Make It OK and about what action each of us can take to reduce the stigma of mental illness," she said.
So far 90 people have received this training, including 40 in Hudson. Some students from Hudson High School will be attending the session in the coming weeks to become ambassadors as well.
"As we start to share this with the community, people really step up and say 'hey we want to do this will you come out and partner with us,'" Canterbury said.
The community can continue to be involved by attending presentations or participating in an upcoming community conversation in February. Canterbury said the national makeitok.org website is also a good resource for tools to carry the converstation on mental illness.
"It's such a simple message right — mental illness is real, it's treatable, we should talk about it, we should reduce the shame of it," Canterbury said. "And yet, you find that for many people it's the first time that they've maybe even considered the issue being an issue."
The goal of the program is to open up the conversation about mental illness, and help communities develop a greater knowledge and comfort with the topic.
"We want to treat mental illness with the same dignity, openness and respect we would any physical illness," Canterbury said. "And we want that to be what's the norm in our community and help community members grow in their comfort level about talking about this."
Though it's the first step, Canterbury said removing the stigma of mental illness can help lead to more people seeking treatment for it.
"People may wait 10 years to get treatment for a mental illness because the stigma." Canterbury said. "By reducing the stigma what we do is we give people an opportunity to get care. And that's what it's really all about."
It takes the efforts of everyone, though, and so far Canterbury said the St. Croix Valley community seems more than willing to help.
"All of us can do something with Make It OK," she said. "It might be as simple as listening to our own language about the words we use about mental illness. It might be not shying away from a conversation when someone initiates with us. It might be someone deciding to get help for the first time."