Erasing The Stigma Attached To Mental Illness

(Illustration courtesy StigmaHurts)
(Illustration courtesy StigmaHurts)

STAFFORD – Stafford Township Council members recently passed a resolution proclaiming Stafford Township as a Stigma-Free Zone in support of mental health awareness.

The idea was brought to the council a few months back by members of the Ocean County Department of Human Services Mental Health Awareness Committee. The idea was reviewed and formally adopted on May 7.

According to coordinator Jamie Busch, the committee is a coalition of community members engaged in promoting mental health awareness and spreading the stigma-free campaign far and wide throughout Ocean County. In addition to Bergen and Ocean Counties, Stigma-Free Zones can also be found in Morris, Warren, Monmouth, and Mercer Counties.

“To my knowledge, it began in Bergen County in an effort to raise awareness about mental illnesses and reduce the stigma associated with them. Nearly all – if not all – municipalities in Bergen have signed on to the initiative by organizing local awareness events, embracing stigma-free messaging/signage, and hosting Mental Health First Aid training,” said Busch.

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In May 2014, Bergen County Freeholders announced Bergen County as an official Stigma-Free Zone “in order to create an environment in which residents will feel free to identify themselves as having this disease and to seek treatment without fear of being stigmatized,” according to a release.

Since then, the campaign has spread to other municipalities and counties, finally reaching Ocean County in 2016 with the declaration of its first Stigma-Free town, Pine Beach, according to Busch. Ocean Gate followed behind, becoming a Stigma-Free Zone in 2018.

As of May 7, 2019, Stafford is now an Ocean County Stigma-Free Zone.

The resolution cites the following statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • 1 in 4 adults experiences mental illness in a given year
  • 1 in 17 adults live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder
  • Approximately 20 percent of youth 13-18 and 13 percent of youth 8-15 experience severe mental disorders in a given year

“The stigma associated with the disorder of mental illness is identified as the primary reason individuals fail to seek the help they need to recover from the disorder,” stated the resolution.

The Stigma-Free campaign aims to eradicate the negative connotations associated with mental illness by promoting awareness, creating conversation, and creating an environment of support for those with mental illness.

The Codey Fund for Mental Health, a nonprofit focused on mental health, states that their mission is to help those with mental illness “Stand Up, Speak Out, and Get Help” with the Stigma-Free Campaign.

The Ocean County Mental Health Awareness Committee continues to reach out to local municipalities to invite them to join in the Stigma Free Zone initiative. Participation in the initiative means that each municipality will develop its own toolkit, based on Bergen County’s original work. The toolkit incorporates the steps to becoming Stigma-Free, Stigma-Free Task Force, Stigma-Free Action Plan, training and educational resources, social media resources, a Crisis Checklist, and a mental health resource directory.

Stafford Township officials emphasized that “there is no ‘health’ without mental health.

For more information, you can visit the Ocean County Department of Human Services Mental Health Awareness Committee and follow the Committee’s Stigma Hurts Facebook page.