Slicing Through the Stigma

From CEI’s Women’s Business Center

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples – Mother Tersea

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Southpaw Packing Company launched a fundraising campaign to bring attention to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Southpaw Packing Company, Inc. is the parent company of Windham Butcher Shop (a USDA Inspected Harvesting and Processing Facility) and Southpaw Meat Market (a retail establishment).

Nichole Sargent is the majority owner and oversees the day-to-day management and infrastructure systems of the business. She has a passion for professional advancement, lifelong learning/education, and community outreach. She shares that she “possess the creative spirit to break boundaries, barriers and seek alternative ways for implementing services.”

Shortly after purchasing the facility and meeting with farmers, Nichole said “it became shockingly evident that most did not have access to healthcare, let alone mental health services.” It was an issue that nagged at her for a long time. “In December of 2022 and winter of 2023, two men with ties to the agricultural community committed suicide within months of each of other. I knew I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer and do nothing.”

Nichole shares how Slicing Through The Stigma came to fruition. “I sat down one day and started drawing (how I reflect and process). When I finished the drawing, I immediately sent it off to Ben at Time4Printing, knowing he would capture my vision. I then contacted some truly special people at NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maine and pitched my idea and coordinated the campaign efforts. I wanted to target the meat processing and agricultural industries.”

The fundraising campaign, “Slicing Through The Stigma,” is to benefit NAMI Maine and the 1 in 4 Mainers who are affected by mental illness.

Nichole shared this information from the National Alliance Mental Health Maine. Stigma prevents people from speaking up and getting support for their mental health. In examining the risk factors for farmers, things like long hours with unpredictable schedules, loss of ability to complete tasks due to injury, the burden that farming has on family life, loss of land through development, and most recently, PFA chemicals polluting the land, livestock, and community homes. There is an increased amount of regulation that limits the ability to effectively provide for their families and way of life.

Nichole shares her words of wisdom, “remember to lead by example. I personally struggle with my own battles with mental health. We, as small businesses owners, carry heavy burdens and immense pressures to perform and succeed daily. I feel, we need to find a good balance between work and personal life. We need to create solutions to the barriers that hinder access to support services and to knowing that it’s ok to not be ok, just know that there are people out there to speak with, sit with, hear you. You are not alone. As business owners, we are natural leaders. We set an example, and need to realize that if our employees see us take care of ourselves, they may feel it is ok for them to as well. That in itself is a gentle gift to the world and the people around us.”

The funds raised advance mental health support, education, and advocacy in Maine. To learn more about the work the NAMI Maine community engages in, and the impact made visit www.namimaine.org/annual-reports.