Aiming higher for mental health
“I’m the freak with a service dog.” These were the words that inspired me to write about a young person I know, who has run into discrimination and harassment for having a psychiatric service dog. The timing for the article, Service dogs: Working for mental illness aligned with Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 5 – 11.
Why am I sharing this? I used a lot of the strategies I recommend for clients in deciding on how to approach your stories, but in this case consciously decided to break a few of the “rules”. I’m breaking one now in asking you to care about this issue.
Set clear goals: These were to create understanding and awareness of mental illness, educate the public about the role of psychiatric service dogs and address stigma related to mental illness.
Define the audience: I decided to focus on a broader audience because everyone needs better understanding. If I had more budget and time, I’d find a way to reach more specific audiences including business owners and managers, in particular those in the restaurant/hospitality industry.
Decide on the strategic approach: I had contemplated pitching the article to the local daily newspaper to get it out to the largest audience. In this case however, I decided I wanted to tell the story my way and retain rights to share it across all of my networks – social media, email, and the mental health community. This allows for the message to spread organically. For these reasons, I posted the story first on Community News Commons, a Winnipeg-based online news outlet that features stories written by local citizen journalists.
Measure results. I’ve been thrilled to receive numerous emails and calls from colleagues and clients saying that they learned something and were now thinking about their own attitudes and perceptions related to mental illness.
One early success was that the Winnipeg Free Press decided to pick up the story, achieving a larger audience at no cost and still giving me all rights to the story.
The biggest win however has been hearing Mackenzie, who is featured in the story, say that she feels that there just might be people out there who care about this issue and now look at people with service dogs a little differently.
Continue the momentum. Today I posted a second story, Service dogs: Working for disabilities you can’t always see. Now that that Mackenzie’s story has been told, it was important to me to cover both sides of this issue as well as provide some solutions that could benefit service dog handlers as well as the community places that are required by human rights legislation to accommodate them.
Hopefully by working together, we can do better for people experiencing mental illness. They are everywhere, in our workplaces, our families, our schools and our communities. They need our help.
Please take a few minutes when you can to read these articles and post your comments or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you then share them with others so that we can all help create greater understanding?
The links again are:
Some resources you might find helpful:
→ Helping Someone with a Mood Disorder
→ Understanding Mental Illness
→ Depression, Anxiety and Other Conditions
→ Framework to Help Eliminate Stigma (in a workplace)
→ Manitoba Human Rights Commission – Service Dogs