Stigma Free Third Anniversary – Videos of Event

On April 24, the Morris County Board of Freeholders this week recognized the third anniversary of the county’s Stigma-Free Initiative and urged all of the county’s 39 towns, plus school districts, businesses, law enforcement, and religious and nonprofit organizations to join the countywide effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. Here are some videos from the event:

Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo

Erica Valvano, of Hope One

Wendy Sefcik, of Remembering T.J.

CCM Students Behind “Despite My Diagnosis” – Alexa Wyszkowski of Rockaway, Raven Resch of Belvidere, and Marco Mirlas of Roxbury

Freeholders Celebrate Third Anniversary of Morris County’s Stigma-Free Initiative

Honor Residents and Students for Efforts on Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

The Morris County Board of Freeholders this week recognized the third anniversary of the county’s Stigma-Free Initiative and urged all of the county’s 39 towns, plus school districts, businesses, law enforcement, and religious and nonprofit organizations to join the countywide effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.




On April 27, 2016, the freeholders unanimously passed a resolution designating Morris County as a Stigma-Free community. It noted that one in four county residents had experienced mental illness, including substance use, and that the stigma associated with these disorders was identified as the primary reason individuals fail to seek the help they need to recover.

“Today, we are re-emphasizing our dedication to raising awareness of these illnesses by creating an environment where affected individuals are supported in their efforts to achieve wellness and recovery,’’ Freeholder Director Doug Cabana said on Wednesday.

“We understood back in 2016 that Stigma-Free had to be more than just a slogan, that it had to become a fabric of our county community to have any real meaning,’’ said Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo. Today, I can tell you that we have made great progress … that we are now part of a 35-town Stigma-Free coalition, and growing.’’ (view video here.)

Kinnelon Borough last week became the 35th town in the county to join the initiative.

To mark the third anniversary of the passage of the county’s Stigma-Free resolution, the freeholders on Wednesday (April 24) honored several residents who have shown leadership in this countywide Stigma-Free effort.

Honored were Montville resident Wendy Sefcik, Morris County Sheriff’s Cpl. Erica Valvano, and County College of Morris students Alexa Wyszkowski of Rockaway, Raven Resch of Belvidere, and Marco Mirlas of Roxbury.

Wendy Sefcik: As the mother of a young man who struggled with depression, she has been extraordinarily courageous and generous to share her family’s story of teen depression and suicide, and the lessons learned that inspires hope for recovery in a stigma free environment. View the video here.

Erica Valvano: She has been a driving force behind Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s Hope One mobile substance use recovery and resource initiative, working closely with persons impacted by the heroin and opioid epidemic, and sharing lessons learned to inspire hope for recovery in a Stigma-Free environment. View the video here.

Alexa Wyszkowski, Raven Resch, and Marco Mirlas: They collaborated on the “Despite My Diagnosis” series about students in the process of recovery that has run in the County College of Morris newspaper, the Youngtown Edition, helping to create a Stigma-Free culture on the campus of the college community. View the video here.

“We congratulate these honorees for their efforts to help remove the personal and institutional stigma long associated with mental illness and addiction, turning the discussion toward helping people without judgment, just as we would when someone with another chronic illness asks for help,’’ said Morris County Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker.

“Morris County’s stigma-free campaign has had a profound impact on public attitudes about people who have substance use and mental health disorders. These no longer are viewed as character flaws but as struggles that human beings are having that deserve compassion and support,” said Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon.

Learn more about the countywide Stigma Free Initiative and take the Stigma-Free pledge at

Learn more about the Sheriff’s Hope One program at

Actor and Comedian John Morello Talks Bullying, Drugs, Diversity on April 4

Speaker Shows Parents and Caregivers How to Empower Teens to Make Good Choices

Actor, comedian, speaker and author John Morello will present his one-man show on substance abuse and choices at Whippany Park High School theater on April 4 from 7-9 p.m.

Morello’s show, entitled “D.I.R.T.,” is a humorous and touching story that creates and honest conversation about tough issues like drugs, bullying, depression and diversity.  The show explores the challenges and decisions that young people face every day. DIRT gets to the heart of issues related to self-esteem in a manner that resonates with audiences in a real and meaningful way.

The purpose of the program is to assist parents and caregivers to empower children in making healthy and responsible choices. through the show, young people will understand the impact they have on every person they meet.

The show is presented by the Hanover township Substance Awareness Council in cooperation with Whippany Park High School.

Morris Stigma-Free Film Event: “Suicide, the Ripple Effect” in Jefferson, April 2

Wharton Talk on April 18 Focuses on Social Media and Teen Suicide Awareness

The difficult topic of suicide will be the focus of two special events scheduled for April in Stigma-Free Morris County, where a countywide initiative is underway to foster treatment and recovery for persons dealing with very difficult issues that could lead someone to consider taking his or her own life.

Jefferson: On Tuesday, April 2, at Jefferson Township High School (10 Weldon Road), there will be a special showing of the documentary film, “Suicide, the Ripple Effect,” which focuses on the devastating effects of suicide and the tremendous positive ripple that effects of advocacy, inspiration and hope that are helping millions heal and stay alive. It will be followed by a question and answer session and discussion.

The feature length film chronicles the story of Kevin Hines, who at age 19 attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Since then, Kevin has been on a mission to use his story to help others stay alive and find recovery.

Wharton: On Thursday, April 18, at the Marie V. Duffy Elementary School, there will be a special forum, “Social Media and Teen Suicide Awareness …. What Every Parent Should Know.”

Speaker Heather DiDomenico, LPC, from Bridges Counseling, will talk to participants about the warning signs of children in crisis and solutions for prevention.

Teenagers are using a language all their own to talk and keep secrets that includes emojis, acronyms and their own terms. During the discussion, DiDomenico will discuss social media apps and explain how kids use them, and how they can be appropriate, misused or even dangerous.  A Q&A will follow the talk.

Hosts of this FREE event are Wharton Police Department and the Wharton Municipal Alliance. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Marie V. Duffy Elementary School, 137 E. Central Ave., Wharton.

Whippany: Thursday, April 4, actor and comedian John Morello will present a one-man show on bullying, drugs and diversity on April 4 at Whippany Park High School. For other Stigma-Free events, visit the calendar of events.

The Jefferson event, sponsored by JT Connect, is the work of Jefferson Girl Scout, Brittany Boetticher. It is part of Project Speak Out, which is Brittany’s Girl Scout Gold Award activity.

In 2009, after Jefferson Township suffered the loss of several individuals by suicide, it became clear that there was an immediate need to raise awareness about mental illness, provide education to the community andmost importantly, connect people through support and resources.

JT CONNECT was founded by Debi Merz, who is the current Council Vice President; Ellen Bechtold, the pastor of Jefferson’s Milton United Methodist Church; and Kristine Wilsusen, Jefferson’s Community Health Educator. The framework for the group was started in 2010 when the founders met with Celina Gray, Executive Director of the Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma to help define a mission statement and direction for the group.

Originally named Jefferson Township Mental Health Project, the group was re-branded in 2012 as JT CONNECT, signifying the need to “connect” the community by raising awareness about mental health, erasing stigma and providing acceptance and support so people would be willing to reach out for help.

Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit on the State and Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic

From New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative:

Knock Out Opioid AbuseMore than 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2018, a majority of which were opioid-related. Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017. There has been progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic, but far too many lives are being lost every day to this crisis.

At the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit on the State and Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic, state and federal officials will discuss resources available to local communities to address the opioid epidemic at the community level. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 at The Newark Museum, 49 Washington St. Newark, NJ.

The statewide conference will serve as the first event of the continuation of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, a two-year initiative focusing on addressing the opioid epidemic through town halls, prescriber education, parent education and a statewide media campaign to increase awareness of the crisis.

Speakers will include representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration, United States Attorney’s Office, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and other agencies.

To learn more about the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit on the State and Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic and to register to attend, visit Seating is limited and registration is required. Please share this message with individuals or organizations interested in attending.

Read more on the KOOA website.

New Jersey Youth Can Spread Vital Prevention Messages

From The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey:

A new report from the National Safety Council reveals that, for the first time in history, Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than in a motor vehicle accident.

This startling statistic once again shows the dire need to educate youth about the dangers of drug use and spread awareness throughout the nation.

New Jersey teenagers will have the opportunity to step up and spread vitally important prevention messages this spring as part of the New Jersey Shout Down Drugs high school music competition.

Since the program’s inception in 2005, New Jersey Shout Down Drugs has challenged high school students to create original music with lyrics that contain powerful peer-to-peer substance use prevention messages. The deadline for New Jersey high school students to submit their original songs is Friday, February 1.

Judges will select a finalist from every county as well as wild card finalists to compete in the Annual Prevention Concert, which will be held at Rutgers University’s Victoria J. Mastrobuono Theater on Friday, May 10th. Three winners of the competition will be announced at the end of the concert. First place will receive a $5,000 music contract with the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. Second-place will receive a $3,000 contract and the third-place finisher will earn a $2,000 contract.

2019 New Jersey Shout Down Drugs

New Jersey Shout Down Drugs logoNew Jersey high school students – is music your life? Do you know how drugs destroy lives? Be a part of New Jersey Shout Down Drugs and let the whole state hear your voice! Submit your song and compete for over $10,000 in prizes!

Created in 2005, New Jersey Shout Down Drugs challenges high school students to create original music and lyrics with powerful substance abuse prevention messages to allow teens to deliver the prevention message to each other through their favorite medium of music. County Finalists are chosen by peer judges to perform their original songs at the Annual Statewide Prevention Concert, held in May, at a state-of-the-art venue.

First, second and third place winners are chosen by a panel of judges that night to receive music contracts worth $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 respectively to perform their winning songs at different events throughout the state during the year.

Learn more and apply at

Successful Stigma-Free Effort at Whippany Park High School

Whippany Park Proud to Be Stigma FreeThe Hanover Township Substance Awareness Council presented “A Conversation About the Opioid Epidemic” on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m., at Whippany Park High School.

Each of the three speakers – former football player Jeff Hatch, and mother and daughter Kayla Grammer and Tracy Smith – emphasized stigma in their presentations and as part of the discussion afterward with the audience.

Hanover Township is a member of the Morris County Stigma-Free initiative, a grassroots county-wide effort that aims to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. Members of the initiative are dedicated to raising awareness of these illnesses by creating an environment where affected individuals are supported in their efforts to achieve wellness and recovery.

Whippany Park Stigma Free poster

Stigma Free Morris County Essay Contest for Jr. High and High School Students

Two $250 Prizes Offered by Stigma-Free Initiative Member and Sponsor: Boonton United Methodist Church & Montville United Methodist Church

A countywide Stigma-Free essay contest is underway in Morris County, with separate categories for junior high school and high school students who are are encouraged to write about the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction, and to offer some ways to encourage students and other county residents to come out of the shadows and get the help they need.

Submission Deadline:  December 31, 2018

Who can Participate:  Any junior high school (grades 6-8) or high school student (grades 9-12) attending school in Morris County.

Award: Two awards of $250  — one each for a grade 6-to-8 student and a grades 9-to-12 student. A $150 Amazon gift card will go to each selected student and $100 will go towards a project selected by each student to further eliminate the stigma of issues, such as mental health disorders, substance use disorders, or others.

Primary Essay Topic: Write a 1-2 page essay (double spaced, 12-pt. Times New Roman font with 1-inch margins) on how a stigmatized issue, such as a mental health disorder or substance use disorder, has impacted you or those you know personally, and what suggestions you might offer to your community to help lessen the negative impact of the stigma surrounding the issue being addressed in your essay.

Two Additional Short Writings: In addition to and separate from your essay, using no more than 100 words, describe why is it important to be stigma-free. Also, using no more than 200 words, describe a project you would like to initiate to help eliminate the stigma attached to any of these issues, if you were awarded the prize.

Take a look at just a few statistics on particular issues that often are associated with stigma:

  • In the past five years, nearly 11,000 individuals died in New Jersey alone from drug overdoses. Nationally, in 2017, some 72,000 lives were lost to overdoses, the leading cause of death, and with a 10 percent increase from 2016.
  • More than 120 people in America die from suicide each day. This death toll has been increasing every year since 2000, and for each life lost to suicide, there are many more suicide attempts.
  • One in five people experience a diagnosable mental health disorder, but the average individual with symptoms doesn’t seek help for 8-to-10 years.

To stigmatize someone means to place a mark of disgrace or reproach upon them. When stigmas are placed on individuals or groups, they often lead to prejudices, discrimination, and misunderstandings. Many individuals who experience substance use disorders or mental health disorders do not seek help because of fear, shame, or judgment from friends or family.

The Boonton United Methodist Church and Montville United Methodist Church, which are members of the Morris County Stigma-Free community, are working to eliminate the stigma associated with those who deal with mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and more. Eliminating such stigmas will better enable and empower individuals to get the resources they need without judgment and allow everyone to be more aware, educated, and alert to these often hidden and misunderstood issues.

The sponsors of this contest challenge any jr. high or high school student to pick one topic under the category of stigmatized issues (e.g. any mental health disorder or substance use disorder), a few examples of which are bullet-pointed above, and write a 1-2 page essay, along with the two additional short writings, as detailed and outlined above.

Submissions should be emailed to Pastor Donald Kirschner at In your email, please include your name, grade level, and what school you attend when submitting your essay and short writings.

Feel free to also email with any questions you might have regarding the essay contest. The winners of the Stigma-Free Essay Contest will be notified and announced in January of 2019.

Tackling Opioids — Prevention for Athletes

A special forum on dealing with opioids when it comes to young athletes who are facing treatment for injury and pain will be held on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 5 at the Morris County Human Services complex at 1 Medical Drive, Morris Plains, on the former Greystone campus.

This event is specially designed for school administrators, school nurses, coaches, and athletic directors, as well as parents of athletes and the community-at-large.

Sponsored by the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris, the forum will teach you about best practices for reducing the use and misuse of prescription opioids among young athletes.

It will introduce you to the TOP Toolkit, developed by the New Jersey Prevention Network (NJPN). The Toolkit will provide policy recommendations as well as educational materials and other resources to help reduce the risk factors that are leading to opiate use among this high-risk population!

Join the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris for this exciting event!

Date: Wednesday, Dec. 5
Time: 9:30 a.m.- 12p.m.
Location: 1 Medical Drive, Morris Plains – Morris County Department of Human Services Conference Room

RSVP by Nov. 30 by calling 973-625-1998.