InvisALERT Solutions – ObservSMART

Combating Mental Health Stigma in a Rural Community

Like all communities, stigma plays a role in an individual’s willingness to access mental health treatment and support. To combat this, Yates INSYGHT, in partnership with the Yates County Community Services Department, chose to promote a countywide initiative focused on promoting comfort in talking about mental health and wellness and seeking support and treatment to reduce stigma around this topic. With the support of OMH funds, Yates INSYGHT was able to execute various initiatives, including the placement of billboards and a county transportation bus wrap with messaging normalizing the need to seek treatment for mental health and the synonymity of seeking physical health treatment. To add to this message, Yates INSYGHT distributed postcards to all Yates County addresses, encouraging normalization of the conversation around mental health and the need for support. Each postcard contained direct access to local and national mental health resources. 225 posters were created and distributed countywide, emphasizing the message to normalize mental health, person-first, strengths-based, positive language, and promote anti-stigmatizing techniques, each offering easy access to local and national mental health resources and supports via a QR code. In addition, Yates INSYGHT was able to execute a social media campaign with boosted messaging, allowing us to reach an additional 46,000 individuals in and around Yates County.


Through partnerships with local businesses and organizations, Yates County stigma efforts were able to expand further. Yates County supported efforts through a tabling display of education on mental health prevalence and stigma impact, as well as local resources and support at our local County Office Building. The display became the initial visual for any community member or staff entering the Office Building for reasons such as the Department of Motor Vehicle Needs, Public Health, Office for the Aging, Community Services and C-SPOA, Department of Social Services, and Legislative meetings. A local ice cream business, Seneca Farms, partnered with Yates INSYGHT to develop and promote a mental health matters sundae and offered additional advertising support via their 15k social media followers and business billboard. Our largest event consisted of a countywide celebration on Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in which 640 t-shirts were distributed and worn with the message “Mental Health Matters,” and individuals chalked the sidewalks with positive, mental health-affirming messaging. Yates INSYGHT was overwhelmed with the number of partners and community members willing to support this initiative and create a safe space for individuals to feel comfortable and confident in themselves and seeking support as needed. All participants rallied to promote their support through social media outlets and a universal hashtag to reach a larger audience.

Yates INSYGHT primarily targeted the residents of Yates County, including children, youth, adults, and families of the Migrant Community, Mennonite Community, and those individuals of middle to high socioeconomic status who may not actively seek necessarily mental health treatment due to cultural or environmental stigmas. Yates INSYGHT also aimed to target individuals of the LGBTQ+ community who may face limited access to stigma-free treatment within their community in our efforts. We had the opportunity to utilize a wide range of partners and individuals in creating our messaging and initiatives to ensure we reached our desired populations through System of Care work and focus groups. Some of these partners included our school systems, faith-based communities, Public Health, community clinics, Chamber of Commerce, Social Services, and Community Services.

Reflecting on the work completed through stigma funds, Yates INSYGHT positively impacted many realms of mental health stigma. Our efforts aimed to reduce the negative attitudes and shame one may feel around talking about and seeking treatment for their mental health conditions. We were able to transform the way our community views individuals with mental illness and encourage a framework of community support for those needing help. Lastly, our efforts aimed to emphasize the prevalence and normalization of mental health across our many organizations and local businesses, creating a safer, supportive space for those daily. Early focus group work and research showed us that most individuals, youth and adults, enrolled in our two primary outpatient behavioral health clinics were Medicaid Eligible individuals, meaning of a lower socioeconomic status. Through our efforts, we aimed to see an increase in the number of individuals reaching out and engaging in mental health treatment and the number of individuals covered under commercial insurance options. While this data has not yet been shared, we look forward to reviewing these results. Because of our ability to reach a larger number of Yates County individuals through boosting and advertising, Yates INSYGHT and our C-SPOA were able to see an increase in the number of individuals engaging one-on-one through our social media and website for assistance in engaging with mental health treatment and/or support both clinical and community-based.

Yates INSYGHT felt we successfully increased conversations around mental health and comfortability in talking about mental health across Yates County. To this day, we still see this unfold. Community members continue to wear “mental health matters” t-shirts, and many posters distributed continue to be displayed countywide. In addition, Yates INSYGHT has seen an increase in the number of organizations and local businesses reaching out to coordinate and attend mental health-promoting gatekeeper training, with many taking place in the past year and scheduled in months to come. Yates INSYGHT has also gained additional partners attending and contributing to our ongoing mental health awareness and stigma reduction subcommittee that meets monthly and identifies ways to continue the work started in this initiative.

In reflecting on our successes and challenges in executing our mental health stigma initiative, Yates INSYGHT felt it important to share a few recommendations for other counties or coalitions aiming to address and combat mental health stigma. First, the work makes a difference no matter how big or small the effort is! Don’t underestimate the ability of a community to unite and work together to execute project goals; don’t be afraid to engage with and involve local businesses and organizations outside the regular behavioral health field. These partners will play a vital role in expanding efforts and messaging outside the field of local behavioral health and offer the ability to grow social networks and support for those who may be struggling or in need. Lastly, stigma efforts and mental health promotion should not cease with the end of the grant or funding opportunity; rather, the funds should be used to help lay the groundwork for future, continuing efforts!

Yates INSYGHT represents the System of Care for Yates County, a spectrum of community-based services and supports dedicated to overcoming challenges and meeting the needs of children and youth at risk of or experiencing serious emotional disturbance and their families. Yates County, being a small, rural community, has made great efforts to support its individuals in achieving collective wellness and had the opportunity to collaborate with the Office of Mental Health (OMH) in support of this through funds aimed at promoting mental health awareness and reducing stigma across a variety of realms.

This project was funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health and the New York State Tax Check-off Funds for Mental Health Stigma Reduction.

Have a Comment?