Another Successful Stigma Photovoice at Skyline College

Since 2013, San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) has partnered with Skyline College to teach students about the stigma of mental illness and substance use.  The partnership involves the Stigma Free San Mateo County campaign and Skyline’s Abnormal Psychology (Psychology 410) class taught by Professor Jennifer Merrill. For the Fall 2014 class, the experience was another success. For four weeks in October, Joe Balabis from BHRS taught the Skyline students about mental illness and the impact of stigma on individuals with these conditions. The class culminated in a Photovoice assignment where students were asked to photograph and write about times they had experienced stigma and discrimination in their lives. These exhibits were then printed and displayed in a public location for the campus community to see.

This semester, a total of 45 exhibits were created and displayed.  Students touched on a number of stigmatizing issues, including body image, religion, education and where they lived. A comment box was provided for observers to leave their feedback over the two weeks the exhibit was displayed. Many of the observers were able to relate to stigma and its impact on people.  One student wrote, “Great exhibit! I can relate to many of the photos. I feel like I’ll be more cautious now and not stigmatize people as much.” Another wrote, “Loved the exhibit! All pictures brought out great emotion. Makes me want to help stop stigma.” On the last day of the series, students remarked how the assignment made the issue of stigma more personal for them. They then signed the Stigma Free San Mateo County pledge to be more respectful and understanding of individuals with mental health and substance use challenges.

The partnership with Skyline College and the use of Photovoice to teach students about stigma marks new territory for both BHRS and Skyline College. Not many higher education institutions in the state or nation engage in such partnerships with local mental health departments. But, does this approach work? One student’s comment during the final course evaluation suggests it does. The student wrote, “Thank you for taking us, the class, through such an impacting assignment. I believe the high participation level of the assignment made the learning experience much more enjoyable and stimulating. You have inspired me to become a better person in a way that I have never even thought of before. Here’s to a Stigma Free world!”

The stigma series will again be offered during the Spring 2015 semester of Psychology 410. For more information about this series, please contact Joe Balabis at jbalabis@smcgov.org, or 650-573-3474.

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