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Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the University of Utah Launches National "Grand Challenge" to Eliminate Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Stigma

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Together, with national experts across the country, Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the University of Utah launched a nationwide collaborative effort to eliminate mental health and substance use disorder stigma.

"We are honored to have such prestigious national organizations join Huntsman Mental Health Institute and our family in this Grand Challenge to end mental health stigma," said David Huntsman, president and COO, Huntsman Foundation. "This partnership will make a powerful impact as we spread the word that there is ‘no health without mental health’ and that we need to begin to treat our mental health as we would any physical ailment."

The impact of stigma has been well documented by the National Academy of Medicine and others. Stigma prevents policymakers from crafting laws free from discrimination and discourages students from pursuing mental health careers. The shame caused by stigma keeps people from seeking the treatment they need, leading to increased rates of suicide and substance use disorders. Stigma has led to an underfunded mental health system, and often, those with the most severe needs fall through the cracks.

"Individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders are among the most discriminated individuals in the world," said Mark H. Rapaport, M.D., CEO of HMHI. "We have the opportunity together to change that reality. It will not happen overnight; it will take many voices and require us to work together in new ways to synergize the incredible work already happening in this area and join together to create real and lasting change."

A Grand Challenge is a social change movement that shifts beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. Past similar movements have included seatbelt usage, recycling, and tobacco campaigns. Grand Challenges require broad support, take place over decades, and have multifaceted strategies to meet a full range of needs. Key elements of the Grand Challenge to eliminate stigma include:

  • development of a committed coalition of national leaders
  • metrics and research
  • a focus on equity
  • policy change and advocacy
  • communications 

Central to a successful Grand Challenge social movement is the presence of a consistent "backbone" organization. HMHI has stepped up to play the role of the backbone and provide staffing and resources and facilitate a national governing body of recognized leaders.

Organizations that have signed on to be part of the leadership team and working groups implementing the Grand Challenge include:

  • American Psychiatric Association
  • American Psychological Association
  • National Association of Social Workers
  • Society for Human Resource Management
  • Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
  • One Mind
  • Shatterproof
  • Rural Behavioral Health Institute
  • The Carter Center
  • Jed Foundation
  • Human Rights Coalition
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Mental Health Coalition

Experts agree  we face a mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of adults are experiencing recent symptoms of anxiety or depression. Even as more individuals experience mental health and substance use disorder challenges, the vast majority don’t seek professional help because of stigma. 

Grand Challenge
"The time is now to come together and normalize mental health and substance use disorder," said Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. "Mental illness is just like hypertension and heart disease; it can be treated. If we all stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ together, we can create change and eliminate stigma forever."

The first meeting of the national collaborative was held in mid-April. In October, a "Design Summit" will be held at Snowbird Resort in Utah, where over 100 organizations committed to eliminating mental health and substance use disorder stigma will meet to build a national network.