Distorted Perceptions is a public education campaign designed by The Anti-Stigma Project to challenge misconceptions and assumptions associated with mental illness and addictions.

MichelleLaurenErik_Fotor.jpg

The early task force meetings revealed that stigma was not only alive and well in the mental health community at large, but also within the committee itself. In addition to powerful stories of stigma faced by consumers, other stakeholders shared their experiences. For example, family members spoke of feeling blamed when they sought help for their loved ones, providers shared frustrations with interdisciplinary stigma, and it soon became clear that stigma was a matrix from which no one was exempt.

 Not only did members of the task force realize that they had been stigmatized themselves, they also realized that they had perpetuated stigma. This painful discovery provided the impetus for the examination of long-standing assumptions. Over the course of many months, members began to challenge each other about what they perceived to be stigmatizing statements, attitudes or behaviors. There were tears, raised voices, hurt feelings. However, there was also insight, awareness, and growth. Beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors started to change.

Not only did members of the task force realize that they had been stigmatized themselves, they also realized that they had perpetuated stigma. This painful discovery provided the impetus for the examination of long-standing assumptions. Over the course of many months, members began to challenge each other about what they perceived to be stigmatizing statements, attitudes or behaviors. There were tears, raised voices, hurt feelings. However, there was also insight, awareness, and growth. Beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors started to change.

The group knew that they had stumbled upon a process that needed to be shared---particularly with people who didn’t see any need for change--- and so began to create an innovative way to share it with the rest of the mental health system. They designed and piloted an interactive workshop, which has now been being facilitated throughout Maryland, around the country and internationally for more than two decades. In 2008, we worked with world-renowned stigma researcher Dr. Patrick Corrigan to design and implement a pilot study to show quantitatively that the Anti-Stigma Project is an effective tool for reducing stigma, and the research project yielded heartening results. In the words of the researchers,“the ASP workshop raises awareness, improves attitudes, decreases stigma, and fosters a sense of personal recovery.” Our definition of the “system” has expanded through the years to include substance use disorders, and indeed the state of Maryland recently merged the addictions system and mental health system into one system addressing “behavioral health.”

Throughout the last 20 years, we have seen paradigms shift, hearts open, pride and arrogance fall by the wayside, and beliefs and behaviors transform within the behavioral health system as well as systems that are connected to it, such as criminal justice, education, and welfare services. The system in Maryland has become one of the best in the nation.

The workgroup has continued to meet, develop additional workshops and tools, gain new and diverse members, create a large cadre of facilitators, and address timely social and community issues affected and/or fueled by stigma. Currently, there are many effective stigma initiatives taking place nationally and internationally. And… we feel we have something unique to add to the mix. During a time when fear-based misconceptions and harmful assumptions about individuals with behavioral health issues are rampant, when inflammatory media coverage of tragic school shootings incorrectly links mental health with violence, the committee thought it was the right time to try to reach a wider audience with our message. And thus the Distorted Perceptions campaign was born.

How did we get here? 

In 1993 information emerged from the state of New York indicating that consumers of mental health services felt more stigmatized within the mental health system than outside of it. Armed with this disconcerting news, the Maryland Mental Hygiene Administration (MHA) decided to take action. A task force was created, comprised of 25 stakeholders including consumers, advocates, providers, administrators, and family members to develop a method of examining and addressing the issue of stigma within Maryland’s public mental health system.

 
  • TEA Arthur, Consultant, Thomas E. Arthur and Associates
  • Ashley Black
  • Jennifer Brown, Director of Training and Communications, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc.
  • Denise Camp, WRAP Outreach Coordinator, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc.
  • Elaine Carroll, Site Director, James Addams Resource Corporation, Baltimore
  • Carolyn Cullison, Executive Director, On Our Own of St. Mary’s County
  • Mike Finkle, Executive Director, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc.
  • Carole Frank, Retired, Office of Workforce Development and Training, Behavioral Health Administration
  • Laurie Galloway, Executive Director, On Our Own of Carroll County
  • Lauren Grimes, Director of Network and Peer Services, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc.
  • Tom Godwin, Co-occurring Disorders Training Specialist, Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland
  • Ann Hackman, Psychiatrist, University of Maryland Medical Systems
  • Thomas Hicks, Executive Director, Helping Other People Through Empowerment Wellness & Recovery Center
  • Tom Hill
  • Brandee Izquierdo-Johnson, Director of Advocacy & Outreach, Faces and Voices of Recovery
  • Susan Kadis, Advocate, Retired Coordinator of Special Programs, Office of Consumer Affairs, Mental Hygiene Administration
  • Jason Keckler, Retired Lieutenant, Frederick Police Department
  • Lisa Kugler, CEO, Beacon Health Options, Maryland Division
  • Diane Lane, Executive Director, Chesapeake Voyagers
  • Michelle Livshin, Graduate Student
  • Michael Madsen, Peer Advocate
  • Kristen Myers, Training Coordinator and Graphic Designer, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc.
  • Yvonne Perret, Advocacy & Training Center
  • Cynthia Petion, Director, Office of Planning and Training, Behavioral Health Administration
  • Rowan Powell, Transitional Age Youth Outreach Project Coordinator, On Our Own of Maryland, Inc. 
  • Erik Roskes, Psychiatrist
  • Katie Rouse
  • Tim Santoni, Administrator of Data Management, Systems Evaluation Center, University of Maryland
  • Casey Saylor, MSW, Advocate
  • Sandy Sundeen, Retired, Volunteer
  • Archie Wallace
  • Cathy Waugh
  • Brendan Welsh, Directors - Office of Consumer Affairs, Behavioral Health Administration, Maryland Department of Health
  • Ellen Weston, Retired Professor, Kaplan University
  • Ken Wireman, Executive Director, Main Street Housing, Inc.
  • Tamara Van Newkirk, Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center