The Blaine County commissioners took a pledge Tuesday to be “stigma-free,” making it one of the first entities to do so for the National Alliance on Mental Health’s campaign to reduce stigma around mental illness.

    The three commissioners said the county has already been working as an organization to make sure all employees are accepted, but signed the pledge to show that they will continue their work while supporting NAMI’s effort.

    “I think Blaine County taking this pledge is maybe inspiring other organizations to participate, but also signifies something larger,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said. “We’re not just a place of employment, but hopefully leaders for all the county.”

    NAMI Wood River spokeswoman Christina Cernansky said at the meeting that one in five people have a mental illness, and thanked the commissioners for taking the step toward ending stigma toward this large group of individuals. The pledge, itself, is a learning tool, listing reasons why the group believes stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be addressed.

    “Eight in ten workers say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment for a mental health condition,” the pledge states. “In addition, mental illness costs the economy about $200 billion in lost earnings each year. Companies engaging in the stigma-free initiative can begin to change this.”

    The pledge states that untreated mental health conditions can harm a company’s activities, lowering morale and reducing productivity. To change that, the pledge encourages workplaces to promote mental health awareness and “encourage acceptance and understanding and to take action as part of their efforts to further our larger social good.”

Cernansky said in an interview that a few companies have already taken the pledge, but the commissioners’ pledge will kick off NAMI’s formal stigma-free pledge campaign. NAMI’s pledge states that it will be challenging organizations nationwide to sign the pledge and “to take steps to learn about mental health, to see the person not the condition and to take action to help eliminate stigma and barriers to understanding.”

“I really understand and appreciate the value of a pledge like this,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said Tuesday. “I have been really impressed by the way that NAMI has stepped up its efforts to send a message to our community and our whole region about the importance of us treating each other well.”

    Commissioners said they will also sign a resolution similar to the pledge in May, which is mental health awareness month.

    To sign the pledge, go to Cernansky said NAMI is also asking anyone who signs to also write “#stimafreeWRV” on his/her hand and post a picture on the organization’s Facebook page. She also encourages businesses to post a green ribbon in their storefront denoting their pledge.