GLBR Mental Health Partnership fights stigma and promotes workplace mental wellness

Millions of Americans living with mental health conditions face stigma – social discrimination and rejection that affects friendships, families, and work environments. 


The Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership, supported by the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, MiHIA, and the THRIVE (Transforming Health Regionally in a Vibrant Economy) initiative to launch a set of new programs aiming to fight stigma, raise awareness of mental health in the region, and improve access to care. 

The initiatives include publication of the Owner’s Guide to Creating and Implementing a Mental Health Program, the iMatter Anti-Stigma Campaign, and expansion of 211/Michigan Hope Portal information services for mental health providers.

The Owner’s Guide includes detailed practical recommendations for changes business administrators can make to improve access to mental health care while making lasting positive impact on company culture.Approximately 1 in 5 adult Americans live with a mental illness, with conditions ranging from commonly occurring depression and anxiety to schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder, among many others. Despite the prevalence of mental illness, people living with the conditions often feel uncomfortable disclosing their diagnosis to friends and coworkers. When unwell, people with mental illness typically don’t receive the social support extended to those suffering from physical ailments. Too often, persistent stigma means that mental illness is simply not talked about.

Guide helps business owners create a healthy workplace culture

J.W. Fisher is the President of Fisher Companies and steering team chairperson of Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership.In the workplace, a culture of secrecy surrounding mental health can compound human resource and insurance policy issues, making it difficult for individuals living with mental illness to get the support they need to do their jobs. J.W. Fisher, president of Fisher Companies and steering team chairperson of Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership, experienced this situation at his business after seeing employees with mental health conditions ostracized and excluded by other workers.

After attending a mental health convention organized by the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, Fisher resolved to tackle the problem directly through a series of company policies tied directly to its existing safety and wellness programs. Through participation in a work group launched at the summit, Fisher used an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) model to expand health care coverage to include counseling sessions for employees and families. Company health insurance covers employee mental health care expenses in the same way as those incurred for any other health condition.

“The actions around increasing mental health coverage, resources, access and community conversations to eliminate stigma are a strong start to addressing mental health in our region,” says Fisher. “Providing employers with tools to help their employees is a great start in the effort to increase access to care.”


The Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership, with support from partners including the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, MiHIA and the THRIVE initiative has used insight from the work group and applied experience from Fisher Companies to create the Owner’s Guide to Creating and Implementing a Mental Health Program. Adapted from the American Psychiatric Association (APA)’s Working Well Toolkit, the guide provides step by step instructions for employers to develop and administer a workplace mental health support framework.

Approximately 1 in 5 adult Americans live with a mental illness, with conditions ranging from commonly occurring depression and anxiety to schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder, among many others.The Owner’s Guide includes detailed practical recommendations for changes business administrators can make to improve access to mental health care while making a lasting positive impact on company culture. Business owners can take the APA’s self-assessment to determine areas where improvements are needed. Also available is an example Mental Health Kickoff Presentation employers can use to get new workplace measures started. 

“We're hoping that this honestly catches like wildfire and that businesses throughout the region will continue to make changes that they need to support mental health of their employees,” says Matt Samocki, Ed.D., portfolio director at THRIVE and steering team member at the Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership. “Each business can decide and adapt how far they want to address and make changes within their business to support their employees.”

Breaking the silence surrounding mental illness

The Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership’s iMatter Anti-Stigma Campaign hopes to foster active dialogue around mental health in mid-Michigan. The group has compiled storytelling segments in video and article format from a group of local people living with mental illness. Several participants are well-known in the local community.

The iMatter speakers show that a mental illness diagnosis does not represent the end of a life story, detailing how the unique challenges tied to these conditions can be overcome.iMatter storytellers represent a variety of professions, ages, and mental health conditions. In one installment, a man gives a powerful testimony of being a survivor of childhood abuse. In another, a mother talks about her experience with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), offering fellow mothers hope. These speakers show that a mental illness diagnosis does not represent the end of a life story, detailing how the unique challenges tied to these conditions can be overcome.

The campaign also includes a toolkit for K-12 teachers, school districts, and counselors targeted at building awareness and acceptance of mental illness. Contact cards and bathroom stall posters featuring mental wellness and acceptance messages and the number for the SAMHSA mental health helpline are also available.

The Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership plans to make the iMatter campaign an ongoing compilation of diverse stories of lived mental health experiences. Participants have the option to publish their story, leave it unpublished, or even request to have it pulled from the website in the future if life circumstances change.

Matt Samocki is the Portfolio Director at THRIVE and a steering team member at the Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership.“The videos are very different, and they’re very open and honest, authentic, and raw,” says Samocki. “They also have a message of hope. What we want is more people coming forward and sharing their stories. We really want to provide an open door for people to be able to connect with us.”

As part of a big-picture approach to improving mental health in the region, the Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership will work with 211 and the Michigan Hope Portal to offer additional resources to address mental health provider wellness. Materials will focus on addressing health issues unique to providers, including burnout, compassion, fatigue, grief, and secondary vicarious trauma.

Additional information on the Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership’s programs and links to further mental health resources are available on the Partnership’s website.

Read more articles by Marta Manning.

A native of Poland, Marta Manning shifted her career path to freelance journalism after working as a research chemist. Her articles have appeared in WebMD.com, the Chemical City Paper, Our Catholic Faith Midland, the NAMI.org national blog, and the Midland Daily News. Marta enjoys drawing and painting, hiking, and supporting local arts and indie music.