Raising Awareness. Breaking Stigma. May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Your neighbor. Your colleague. Your friend. Your parent. You.

With one in five people living with a mental health challenge, you or someone you know is fighting a battle that can feel lonely and deeply frustrating.

Mental health agencies around the country, including Compeer, work diligently to shine a bright light on the stigma surrounding mental health. Each May we increase our efforts to bring a collective spotlight on this growing health crisis that not only holds people back from living a fulfilling and productive life but is increasingly taking the lives of our neighbors and friends through suicide.

What is a Mental Health Challenge?

Just like our physical health, our mental health can be well or unwell. While there are things we can do ourselves to keep our physical health well, like exercise and a balanced diet, sometimes there are challenges that require more professional intervention like medication or regular meetings with a doctor. A blocked artery might require surgery to place a stent, or medication to keep the heart pumping without interference. Our friends and family become important support systems, ensuring that we continue healthy habits like exercising and eating right, and following doctor’s orders. They cheer us on when the going gets tough.


Likewise, there are things we can do to keep our mental health well, like journaling to process our thoughts from the day or having a trusting person in our lives to share things with. But just like with our physical health, sometimes there are challenges that require more professional intervention like medication or regular visits to a counselor or Mental Health Professional. Profound sadness, that cloud that simply never lifts, may require more than simply reflecting on the good things that happened earlier in the day. In fact, that sadness may be depression. Sometimes this is recognized as a chemical imbalance in our brain that may require medication to bring us through the initial challenge. Later, regular meetings with a mental health professional to work together on problem-solving and helping to identify the troubling thoughts and actively work to change one’s behavior or thinking.


And just as with our physical health challenges, our friends and family become important support systems, ensuring that we continue healthy habits like journaling and connecting with a caring friend, and following doctor’s orders. Again, they cheer us on when the going gets tough.

What is Mental Health Stigma?

When we don’t understand something, we often become afraid.


Mental health has long been poorly understood. Stigma surrounding mental health comes from lack of knowledge, education, and acceptance of what it means to live with a mental health challenge. Think about it- when someone has surgery, well-wishes are given, loved ones by your bedside, flowers on your table when you return home. But when someone has a panic attack and comes home from the psychiatric hospital- does that person have the same support and attention? Not usually. That is stigma.


Our colleagues at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explain it best:

People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and even discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult. Stigma is when someone, or you yourself, views you in a negative way because you have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as shame that can be felt as a judgement from someone else or a feeling that is internal, something that confuses feeling bad with being bad.

Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Learning how to cope with stigma and how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us.

Support is Critical

The reasons why we support each other during their most challenging times are often deeply personal.


Mental health challenges don’t only affect the individual who is unwell. Helping to raise a child with mental health challenges is stressful, and the impact of stigma makes the journey all the more isolating. By speaking up about your own challenges, or offering a helping hand or caring word, families find camaraderie and the strength to continue their journey.

  • More than 60% of young adults with a mental illness are unable to finish high school.
  • The second leading cause of death for high school students is suicide.
  • One in 12 high school students have attempted suicide.


Mental health doesn’t affect a person only when they are in the four walls of their home. It makes good business sense to support employees who are living with mental health challenges. There are important articles sharing what it’s like to work with a mental health challenge  or how a workplace can impact employee’s mental health. And mental health challenges have a financial impact on the workplace.

  • $193 billion in workplace earnings are lost due to serious mental illness each year.
  • 217 million workdays are lost due to depression each year.
  • Mental health is the most expensive medical condition in the U.S., with spending at $221 billion in 2014.

Be The Difference

No matter who you are, or what season of life you are in, you can be the difference for loved ones and neighbors living with a mental health challenge.

Speak Up

  • Tell your story – If your own story includes living with a mental health challenge, and you are comfortable speaking, share your story. Share with a friend, a family member, colleagues, or the comfort of your favorite social media channel. The stigma of talking openly about mental health will only dissipate when we talk openly about mental health. SocialMerk is a great YouTube channel where two childhood friends share their experiences living with mental health challenges.
  • Be a friend – There is someone in your life who is living with a mental health challenge, and they likely feel very alone or unable to talk about what they’re going through. Sit with them. Be with them. Call them up to see how they’re doing, or ask them to catch up over a cup of coffee. Friendship and belonging to a community is regarded as a basic human need, one that builds confidence and self-esteem. Rich, mutually-beneficial friendships help each other to become more outgoing and sociable, increasing feelings of self-worth and empowerment.
  • Take the pledge – Pledge to end the stigma around mental illness. From our partners at Let’s Talk StigmaWords are powerful. That’s why we’re asking people like you to take our Pledge to End Stigma. Join our group of thought leaders and difference makers who are working to change public perceptions about mental health. Pledge to End Stigma with us and help create a new dialogue about mental health. Click here now to take the pledge and join a growing movement to end the stigma.


Learn More

Similar to ‘First Aid’ and CPR, ‘Mental Health First Aid’ teaches individuals how to help those experiencing mental health challenges or crises. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. Click here to learn more, find an upcoming class, or schedule a training for your school, workplace, or place of worship.



Volunteering either by yourself or with a group is an important way to help break the stigma of mental health, offering a caring word and supportive hand to a neighbor in need. Compeer offers a variety of ways to volunteer for both individuals and groups.

  • One-on-One Friendships – One-on-One Friendship volunteers assist a client living with a mental health diagnosis who are striving for good mental health by spending approximately 4 hours of time together in person per month. Volunteers are positive role models who help raise self-esteem, increase social and communication skills, build trust, increase a sense of belonging, and encourage independence for their Compeer friend. After completing the application process, volunteers are presented information about potential matches based upon your areas of interest and needs of our clients. Great for individuals.

  • Phone Buddies – Phone Buddy volunteers provide weekly support over the phone to an adult or older adult client who is waiting for a One-on-One Friendship volunteer. Volunteers are positive role models who help raise self-esteem, increase communication skills, build trust, increase a sense of belonging, and encourage independence for their Compeer friend. After completing the application process, volunteers are presented information about potential phone buddy matches based upon your areas of interest and needs of our clients. Applications for Phone Buddies begins in Spring 2019. Great for individuals.

  • Engagement Group Activities – Engagement Activities are offered to matched friends and clients waiting to be matched. These free group activities provide opportunities to get to know one another, reduce isolation, and improve socialization. Activities range from pumpkin painting to holiday parties, and anything in between. Opportunities are limitless and can reflect your interests! Activity volunteers support group Engagement Activity events, by hosting and implementing activities held at the Hennepin Community Center in Buffalo’s Lovejoy Neighborhood. After completing the application process volunteers work in partnership with Compeer program staff to identify opportunities for one-time or ongoing Engagement Activities. Great for individuals or groups.

  • Fundraising Event Volunteers – Fundraising provides a critical level of support, providing financial resources to further support our clients and volunteers. Two events are hosted each year: the Superhero 5k Walk & Run for Children’s Mental Health (June) and our signature cocktail party The Carnival (September). Volunteers are needed for a myriad of tasks such as set-up, registration, route guides, game hosts, clean-up, etc. No long term commitment needed for this volunteer role. Great for individuals or groups.


A donation to mental health agencies such as Compeer helps to fund critical, life-changing, and in some cases life-saving work. A gift to Compeer provides:

  • Screening to match the best volunteers with our clients
  • Year-round activities for clients and volunteers to attend at no cost
  • Training to keep our volunteers educated and confident to best guide our clients
  • School-based group and one-on-one mentoring to middle & high school kids with mental health challenges

Donating can be fun as you participate in races, cocktail parties, or fundraising events at home or work.

  • Superhero Walk & Run for Children’s Mental Health – June 7, 2019
    Shed your mild-mannered alter ego to make a meaningful impact, improving mental health for kids in Western New York. Your superpowers will lead you through a 5k race or 1.8 mile walk, and a super post-race party fit for a hero! While you’re having a blast, you’ll be raising critically needed funds to help children get the support they need to face the mental health challenges they face each day. Co-hosted by Compeer and Mental Health Advocates of WNY. Click to learn more.
  • The Carnival – September 27, 2019
    Come one, come all to the greatest fundraiser on earth! The Carnival to benefit Compeer Buffalo is coming to town. Join in the fun of this carnival-themed cocktail party complete with fair food made fabulous, games & prizes, and the best entertainment in town! Click here to learn more.


You can break the mental health stigma. You can be the difference.