• Making It OK: Insurer Helps Take the Stigma out of Mental Illness

    Donna Zimmerman Apr 17, 2017

    Donna ZimmermanHealthPartners, our Minnesota-based integrated healthcare delivery and finance organization, serves more than 1.5 million medical and dental patients nationwide. Four years ago, we held community discussions about what could be done to improve mental health care.

    One recurring theme in the discussions was that stigma keeps mental illness in the shadows and often prevents people from seeking treatment. We decided to launch a public awareness campaign to address this stigma.

    The Make It OK campaign kicked off in 2013 as a partnership of HealthPartners, the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and local ad agency Preston Kelly. The partnership works in local communities to empower and inspire conversations and actions to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

    The campaign included a series of documentaries that aired on Twin Cities Public Television and featured stories of people living with mental illness; print, radio, TV, and bus shelter advertising; and a new website, makeitok.org.   

    In 2016, HealthPartners took the campaign to a broader audience by sponsoring a podcast—“The Hilarious World of Depression”—on Minnesota Public Radio. The podcast series, created by radio personality John Moe, features comedians talking about their personal experiences with depression and other mental illnesses.

    Moe says he has always loved comedy, even as a kid. When he became a teenager, depression hit him hard, and he was terrified because he thought he had gone insane. Only when he was an adult did a doctor tell him he had depression, a disease that can be treated. When he finally started to talk about his depression, he found that many people began to reciprocate.

    In the first “Hilarious World” episode, Peter Sagal, host of the public radio program “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” revealed publicly that he has depression. As in every episode, Moe started the conversation by asking whether depression is funny. Sagal responded that depression is funny in the same way that death is funny—it’s not. But you can cope with it by laughing. He wants others to know that if they have depression, they aren’t alone.

    Other episodes included interviews with:

    • Maria Bamford, who grew up in Duluth, Minn., and has appeared on Comedy Central, Netflix, and “The Tonight Show.”
    • Michael Ian Black, star of TV comedy shows including “The State” and “Ed.” He talks about his struggle with depression in his book, “You’re Not Doing It Right.”
    • Dick Cavett, host of “The Dick Cavett Show.” He was among the first celebrities to talk openly about having depression.
    • Andy Richter, a busy comedian who was a longtime cohost/sidekick on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

    With more than 1.3 million downloads, the podcast has proven to be tremendously popular. USA Today and Time each named it one of the best new podcasts for 2016. Listeners have reached out to Make It OK to share their personal stories, giving us more opportunities to remind people they aren’t alone.

    “The Hilarious World of Depression” episodes are available on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. American Public Media hosts the episodes on its site.

    Parts of the interviews are also posted on makeitok.org, and I hope you will check them out. Some of the interviews will make you laugh, and all will inspire you by showing the ways that people are fighting the stigma of mental illness.

    Donna Zimmermanis senior vice president, government and community relations, HealthPartners, Minneapolis. Read more entries on the Leadership Blog.