Two Billings Women Launch ‘Stop the Shame’ Campaign to Help Reduce the Stigma Associated with Mental Illness
Kaitlyn Cochran and Tara Cady are on a joint mission.
Each is a bright, college-educated woman. Each is a VISTA volunteer living and working in Billings. Each is in her 20s.
And, each lives with mental illness.
Together, they have launched a fundraising and awareness campaign at NAMI Billings to heighten awareness in the community about mental illness, to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to raise money for programs that NAMI provides. The campaign, now underway, is called "Stop the Shame" and will run through Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 4-10.
NAMI Billings is the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Its mission is to educate, support and advocate for those affected by mental illness. The organization provides services free of charge; it receives no state or federal money.
Each of the women is sharing her personal story and together they are engaged in an effort to write affirmative chalk messages throughout the city to share their voice and heighten their presence in the community.
Cochran, 25, was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2009. She suffers from panic attacks and oftentimes debilitating anxiety, she said. She also has a family member who lives with a "serious mental illness."
"I have known too well the way society has silenced the dialogue about mental illness -- and that to freely voice either your own experiences with mental illness or that of a loved done you are risking serious stigmatization," Cochran said.
You can learn more about her personal story and the campaign here.
Cady was diagnosed in 2008 with bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.
Growing up, parents wouldn't let their children have play dates with Cady's house because of her mother's "eccentricities." Bipolar disorder was perceived as something you could catch and no one wanted it, Cady said.
She felt isolated as the community avoided her family. When she went to high school and her mother was diagnosed with cancer, things jettisoned quickly. With no one to talk to, she turned to writing poetry with suicidal themes. School personnel called authorities and police escorted her to a mental hospital.
"The experiences I've had with mental illness are nightmarish, but they make me who I am," Cady said. "As more and more celebrities come out of the woodwork to share their stories of hope and recovery, I am encouraged to share mine."
You can learn more about her personal and her campaign here.
"Our hopes are -- through sharing our own stories -- to raise awareness for mental illness, to fight the stigmas associated with mental illnesses and to encourage people to see the person for their human qualities without defining them by their illness," Cochran said.