Make It OK!

 Peace River Center Campaign Aims to Quash Stigma Associated With Mental Illness 



With one in five people experiencing a mental health issue at some point in their lives, it is vitally important that as a society we remove the stigma associated with mental illness in order to encourage those affected by these conditions to seek the treatment they need. Peace River Center is on the frontline of this battle, working tirelessly to provide the public with the services, care and education necessary to help people struggling with mental health difficulties. 


To this end, Peace River Center has a number of programs and campaigns operating to provide resources for anyone who either needs care or is interested in supporting the organization’s goals. One such project is the Make It OK campaign. Ileana Kniss, director of community relations and development for Peace River Center, recently spoke with us about this outreach effort. 


“The Make It OK campaign is an effort for us to help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. It’s a campaign to reduce stigma by increasing understanding and creating a conversation about mental illness,” Kniss explains. “A lot of times, we have a stigma because of stereotypes, because it’s something we really don’t know about. So we’re just trying to talk about what is mental illness, what is mental health. The three main pillars for Make It OK are to learn, share and talk about mental illness.”


The reason this stigma needs to be addressed is because it can be a major obstacle to someone getting care when they need it. They may not want to be diagnosed, so they will avoid talking about the problems they are having out of fear of having others look at them in a negative light. However, mental illnesses are diagnosable and treatable diseases, and we need to recognize that fact and encourage people to reach out in times of distress. 


Peace River Center is offering engaging 30-minute presentations to discuss these issues with anyone who is interested in learning more. They can send a representative to any workplace or community center, or a virtual presentation can be arranged. You can schedule a presentation by visiting The Make It OK campaign is an ongoing effort. The website includes other helpful information, such as ideas for what to say and what not to say to individuals who are experiencing mental health problems. 


Another project that Peace River Center has is Club Success. Kniss elaborates on this program, “Club Success is a place for members – we call them members, not clients because they come willingly – to learn how to integrate back into the community. It helps individuals find a place of belonging. They come, and what they do is called a ‘work order day,’ so they have activities every day that they choose, whether it’s being in the kitchen and learning how to cook, or doing all kinds of different things that people take for granted.” 


A new Club Success recently opened in Haines City earlier this month. The criteria for acceptance into Club Success is that you must have a diagnosed mental illness and be willing to engage in work opportunities. Peace River Center’s Club Success program serves individuals in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. If you are interested in participating in this unique program that is certified by Clubhouse International, call the Peace River Center Access to Care line at (863) 248-3311. 


Finally, there is the Christmas in July project. “Christmas in July is something that we’ve been doing for a couple of years now to try to help our clients. About 95 percent of our clients live at or below the poverty level, so when you consider the fact that after expenses and medication and such, they don’t have a lot of extra income for extra things. Sometimes it’s as simple as writing journals, undergarments, bed sheets, or just household items, so this allows us to help them with those needs.” 


Peace River Center receives funding for very specific programming, and it does not allow for additional expenses. In the Children’s Services program, for example, many of the kids need coping mechanisms. Therapists who work with children will help them to develop some coping tools to use, such as a balloon filled with gel to squeeze. Additionally, art therapy is a great tool for individuals suffering from anxiety or depression. As a nonprofit, Peace River Center is unable to provide the supplies for these projects, but they are well used and appreciated in therapy by Club Success members, psychosocial rehab clients and others.


If you would like to contribute to Christmas in July, there are drop-off locations at the Community Relations office at 1933 E. Edgewood Drive, Suite #101, and at the Peace River Center Thrift Shoppe, 2934 S. Florida Avenue, both in Lakeland. You can also purchase and send a gift directly through the Peace River Center Amazon Wish List. The direct link for that Wish List is

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