Say It Out Loud aims for mental health dialogue

By Mary Diamond

The Say It Out Loud grant, recently awarded to NIU’s Counseling Adult and Higher Education department, was created to encourage communities in Illinois to start talking about mental illness.

The grants will fund the statewide project by the same name that aims to reduce discrimination associated with mental health through open dialogue and encourages members of the community to share their experiences, the grant said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control said about 50 percent of adults in the U.S. will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.

“If you talk about mental illness, discuss it within the community and speak out when something isn’t right,” said Elisa Woodruff, graduate assistant to NIU’s Say It Out Loud grant program. “A lot of people who are suffering from it would benefit from feeling like it’s a safe topic to talk about,”

The stigma surrounding mental health got national attention in September of last year when Kmart circulars featured a line of girls tee shirts with graphics that said things like, “Gone crazy, back in five minutes,” and “I’m not crazy, my imaginary friends can prove it.

One blogger in Florida posted a picture of the ad and mounted an online campaign asking Kmart to remove the items.

“A lot of people think it’s stigmatizing just to wear a shirt like that, and a lot say it doesn’t matter,” said Chato B. Stewart, illustrator and blogger at “When it affects a child, whether they know it or not, that’s where I draw the line and that’s why I picked up the ball on this.”

In response to Kmart’s T-Shirt designs poking fun at going crazy, Stewart took screenshots of the ad, wrote a blog, posted it to Twitter and Facebook, called the company, made contact through Kmart’s social networking sites and eventually managed to attract attention from other online commentors. On Feb. 23, he received a direct tweet from Kmart saying that the shirts had been removed.

NIU’s Say It Out Loud project already has a Facebook page, their website will launch this spring and during the last week in September the university will host a “Say it Out Loud” week. Grant money will fund programs to engage NIU students, faculty and the community through public speakers, book discussions and a film series about mental illness. The Facebook page is updated with resources and links to articles online for anyone who wants to learn more about mental illness.

“In group therapy, people say they thought they were the only one, that they were isolated,” said Mark Matuszewski, a doctor of clinical psychology at NIU’s Counseling & Development center. “Opening a dialogue about mental health de-mystifies it and makes people feel that there is hope for a way to address it.”

The state of Illinois awards Say It Out Loud grants to 10 communities each year through the Children’s Mental Health Partnership .

“There are times when somebody says something they wouldn’t see as being aggressive, but someone in the population may take it offensively,” Woodruff said. “A child or young adult suffering from mental illness may then feel stigmatized and unable to talk about it or ask for help, because their peers are seeing it as a joke of some sort.”