NEW YORK, Sept. 10, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A relentless effort by a coalition largely comprising individuals diagnosed with mental health conditions has convinced the upscale apparel designer Kenneth Cole to remove a billboard perpetuating the myth that links “mental illness” with violence.
The billboard, in the shadow of Riverside Church, reads: "Over 40M Americans suffer from mental illness. Some can access care…All can access guns. –KennethCole #GunReform #AreYouPuttingUsOn"
Responding to a week-long campaign of emails, voicemails, and tweets, the Kenneth Cole organization sent an email this morning which read in part: "In hindsight, we were overly ambitious with our attempt to address two complex issues in a medium designed for brevity, and regret any confusion it has caused. The billboard on the West Side Highway will be replaced…"
“It was our collective effort that effected this change,” said Doris Schwartz, MA, LCSW-R, chief operating officer of the Mental Health Association of Westchester, who launched the campaign against the billboard after she spotted it on the Henry Hudson Parkway on September 2.
The mental health advocacy community objected to the implication that individuals with mental health conditions are more violent than the general public. "In reality, we are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence," said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), who himself has a mental health condition.
The advocates' campaign to remove the billboard – and replace it with a positive message about individuals with mental health conditions – soon went viral, with articles on CNN, NBC, and in other publications, and support by mainstream organizations including the American Psychiatric Association.
"But our work is only half done," said Schwartz, in response to Kenneth Cole's announcement that their new campaign would highlight "inspiring individuals who have confronted life's obstacles…." These individuals include "a transwoman and model, a humanitarian hip-hop artist, a pro surfer turned activist, a model turned activist, and a deaf pro soccer player," according to the designer's press release.
"They are calling these individuals 'The Courageous Class,'" Schwartz said, "and I'm certain they are; but there is no one more courageous than those of us who openly disclose our struggles with a mental health condition and fight to overcome the prejudice and discrimination that accompany a mental health diagnosis. I'd love to see Kenneth Cole include one of us in his fall/winter 2015 campaign."
SOURCE Mental Health Association of Westchester
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