SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The University of Utah’s Huntsman Mental Health Institute has partnered with mental health experts across the nation to launch a “Grand Challenge” to eliminate mental health and substance use disorder stigma. 

For those who don’t know, U of U defines a Grand Challenge as a social change movement that shifts beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Past movements considered to be Grand Challenges were campaigns that targeted seatbelt usage, recycling, and tobacco use. 

“We are honored to have such prestigious national organizations join Huntsman Mental Health Institute and our family in this Grand Challenge to end mental health stigma,” said David Huntsman, president and COO, of Huntsman Foundation. “This partnership will make a powerful impact as we spread the word that there is ‘no health without mental health’ and that we need to begin to treat our mental health as we would any physical ailment.”

As noted by mental health professionals, mental health stigma has been a pressing issue for some time now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that over 40% of adults are suffering from symptoms of anxiety or depression. The shame that is caused by stigma hinders those affected from seeking treatment, which leads to increased rates of suicide and substance use. As stigma has created an underfunded mental health system, experts say the most severe cases often go untreated. 

“Individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders are among the most discriminated individuals in the world,” said Mark H. Rapaport, M.D., CEO of HMHI. “We have the opportunity together to change that reality. It will not happen overnight; it will take many voices and require us to work together in new ways to synergize the incredible work already happening in this area and join together to create real and lasting change.”

According to U of U, key elements of the Grand Challenge to eliminate mental health and substance use disorder stigma include: 

  • Development of a committed coalition of national leaders 
  • Metrics and research 
  • A focus on equity 
  • Policy change and advocacy 
  • Communications 

So far, numerous organizations have begun to implement the Grand Challenge. 

“The time is now to come together and normalize mental health and substance use disorder,” said Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association. “Mental illness is just like hypertension and heart disease; it can be treated. If we all stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ together, we can create change and eliminate stigma forever.”

The first meeting of the Grand Challenge was held in April. A “Design Summit” will be held at Snowbird Resort in October with over 100 organizations dedicated to ending the stigma on mental health and substance use disorders present.