News & Events

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

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Faculty Advisor Russ Crespolini

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by CCM Faculty Advisor Russ Crespolini:

Russ CrespoliniTwo decades ago I underwent surgery to repair two ruptured discs at the base of my spine that had robbed me of motor control in my left leg and caused me considerable pain for almost six  months.

At the time I was a junior and an undergraduate and ended up missing a large portion of the academic year. I had just started seriously dating someone and I did not know whether this new relationship could weather the ups and downs of this serious physical infirmity. Epidural and steroid injections, limited mobility and chronic pain had become a steady part of my life. I wish I could tell you that the surgery fixed everything and twenty years later as adjunct professor and faculty advisor to the Youngtown Edition I face each day pain-free.

But I would be lying.

Because it was after my surgery I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The doctor’s told me that this narrowing of my spinal canal was something I was born with and eventually it the passage would narrow enough to constrain the nerves and put me in a wheelchair.

This was going to be exacerbated by the scar tissue left over by my surgery. Less space in the canal for the nerves to move freely, after all. I was also going to deal with varying levels of pain for the rest of my life. I wish I could tell you that I began exercising and dieting in earnest and did everything I could better my odds.

That would also be a lie.

After surgery, I went back to campus, cane in hand and got special permission to take 25 credits a semester to graduate on time and continue on my path to graduate school. I also ate my way to 400 pounds and dealt with the grinding of chronic pain with prescription anti-inflammatory and pain medication.

Dealing with chronic pain is something that so many people experience but never talk about. The way it may take you ten minutes to get out of bed in the morning when others take ten seconds.  The way it gnaws at your attention span when you are trying to focus on work or school. The way the pain activates your adrenal gland and wears you out. Chronic pain makes you so very very tired. It also makes you jealous. You are jealous of the people around you who aren’t suffering as you do. Not because you would wish this on them, but because they take for granted what they have. That physical normalcy you have been denied.

I wrote this, not because this is a pity party for me, but because I was so inspired and humbled by the previous Despite My Diagnosis columns written by brave authors who shared their stories with Youngtown.

And because I know that so many people deal with varying levels of chronic pain and choose to suffer in silence or be isolated because they are afraid they might snap or be quick-tempered with someone. But chronic pain can also do something unexpectedly beautiful.

It can make you appreciate what you do have.

On the days when your pain is more manageable, you appreciate being able to walk freely, to transition from a seated position to standing without wincing. You appreciate being able to mow your lawn, or walk through a store or take a day trip to the beach. You appreciate the friends and family who love you and care about you and support you. And that builds a reserve of strength you can draw on in your darker days.

But you have to do your part. I did change my lifestyle. I exercise daily to keep myself mobile (it takes a lot of work to look this mediocre) and I did lose over 100 pounds I needed to lose. I no longer take prescription medication for pain management. I take the occasional Aleve.

And I also sought counseling and help.

So for those of you out there with chronic pain, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do not suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to explain to people what is happening with you and ask for their patience and support. It is ok to have bad days. It is ok to feel depressed and to feel your lot in life is unfair. It is not ok to let those feelings overwhelm you. Lean on those relationships that provide you comfort.

I made it because I had people who believed in me. I had an undergraduate advisor who put herself out there for me and supported me and guided me and set the template for how I treat my own students. I still text her daily. I had family and friends who were there when I woke up in the hospital and continued to be a presence in my daily life. Those relationships that are meant to be will strengthen. That girl I was in the new relationship with 20 years ago when I had my surgery is my wife of 13 years.

For those of you who know someone with chronic pain, do your best to be patient. Celebrate the days they feel well and listen to them when they are feeling down. I still have my bad days, when the pain and weakness creeps down my leg. Usually when the weather changes.

So despite my diagnosis, I am a journalist, father, husband, educator, advisor, improv-artist, video-game enthusiast, Union President, and adjunct professor. But because of my diagnosis, I appreciate, and enjoy, those opportunities more than I will ever be able to express.

Editor’s note: Russ Crespolini is a working journalist and adjunct professor at County College of Morris and The College of Saint Elizabeth where he advises both campus newspapers. He wrote this column in the hopes other faculty, staff and administrators would share their story.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Andres Ortiz

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Andres Ortiz:

Andres Ortiz holds a sign that says, Despite my Diagnosis, autism success.
Andres Ortiz

My name is Andres Ortiz and I have high functioning autism, which means I think differently and often have trouble understanding social cues and knowing how to communicate with others. My autism hasn’t stopped me from being a talented drummer and I’ve been playing in bands for about 14 years. Sometimes it’s been easiest to make friends through my love of music.

I started going to different schools when I was three. When I was younger, I felt that nobody understood me and that caused me to act out sometimes. Once I went to the Newmark School in Scotch Plains, NJ and then Montgomery Academy in Basking Ridge, NJ everything got easier because people there understood how I thought and learn.

In high school, I had ups and downs because I was also diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I have trouble staying awake and my memory is bad sometimes but I continue to try my very best. It’s interesting that my brain always remembers how to play music and facts about it, but I can’t read it. People with autism often know a whole lot about one topic and mine is music.

I came to CCM through the College Steps Program because I wanted to be more independent and I am proud to say I am doing well in all my classes. However, sometimes I still struggle with sleeping, remembering important due dates and details, asking for help at the right time, and communicating with others. Now I have peer mentors, who are also CCM students through College Steps, who help me with these problems as well as note-taking, studying, independent living and social skills, and budgeting. All College Steps students, mentors, and our Program Coordinator, Nancy Tichenor, meet to work on life, employment and community skills to help us with college and life after we leave.

I have made friends in my classes and through my mentors through College Steps and of course, I enjoy the other students in the program. We can often be found laughing together a lot. On May 6, we’re having a big charity event for The Seeing Eye and we’re trying to raise approximately $90.00 because The Seeing Eye is celebrating its 90 birthday. We hope it will be a great success. Come have a piece of pizza and support our fundraiser. And say, “Hi.” Maybe you’ll want to be a mentor next year. College Steps has on campus, flexible, paid positions for second-semester students interested in becoming a mentor. If you are interested in applying to become a mentor, email nancy@collegesteps.org!

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 https://morriscountystigmafree.org/

Learn more about the Sheriff’s Hope One program athttps://sheriff.morriscountynj.gov/community/hope-one/

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Matthew Bristol

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Matthew Bristol:

Matthew Bristol holding a sign saying Despite my diagnosis, I still find ways to laugh.
Matthew Bristol

I’ve spent my entire life using humor as my go-to way of dealing with adversity. It’s given me a pretty good sense of humor, at least in my opinion, although some of my professors may disagree. No matter how bad things get I still find ways to laugh. My family often says, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can always laugh at your enemies!” From my earliest years, I’ve done comedy writing with my family, and one of my greatest passions in life is not just cheering myself up but getting others to smile and laugh.

Even at my lowest points during my time in the hospital I still remember drawing cat faces on medical masks because it gave me a laugh and made others smile. Later in life, this would include such things as wearing a full suit ensemble and a box cut to be a knight’s helmet on my head, to deliver the newspapers.

I sometimes like to joke that my life started at its lowest point, so it’s only up from there. At times that can be debated, but despite all of this, it’s still an upward climb. I was born unable to breathe and extremely ill, and my doctor found that I had encephalitis, swelling of the brain due to infection. Seizures soon followed that has lasted my entire life. Now begins the debate if that was the lowest point of my life. When I was three, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer that affects both blood cells and bone marrow. While I went into remission after many years of chemotherapy, I was left with mental and physical scars that haunt my life to this day. Some of them, such as those on my chest, is more literal than figurative. I dealt with this along with some general problems that arose as I grew up. Because of the chemotherapy, I developed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis which caused depression and weight gain. I haven’t always been this impressively sleek and aerodynamic.

One of my earliest memories of my mothers sometimes alternative sense of humor was at Disneyland when I was on vacation thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation. A very rude woman approached my mother at the pool where I was swimming and pointed at the hole in my chest and bellowed out “What happened to him!” My dear mother, never at a loss for words simply said back “He was shot.” She didn’t have a response to that.

As I grew older anxiety and depression ruled my life and dictated much of my decisions. One of my biggest struggles in life has always been my Neuropathy that impairs my ability to write or work with my hands. Neuropathy leads to intermittent pain all throughout my body. This on top of one of the other symptoms that are often reported in those in remission from chemotherapy, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, memory loss, and memory loss. Cancer does not only impact you as you go through it but continues afterward, leaving lasting impacts on your body, varying differently from cancers and treatments. The side effects or “late effects” are especially prominent in young children. Lucky me.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve struggled through my classes, and I’ve struggled through my writing. Whether for fun or for classes, I’ve always struggled to keep myself on task. I can’t count the number of times in my life I’ve stopped and simply said to myself “It may not be perfect. But I’m doing it. I will do my best.” I just keep on as a mantra, and no matter how it turns out. I will do it. Even as I write this now, my anxiety hinders me. I stop to rethink every word I say. I think and rethink everything I do.

During my time at CCM, I’ve joined in on many different clubs and taken many different roles. Despite all my troubles, I’ve found myself at home here. I’ve been the vice-president of the SGA and worked for and I run many other clubs and organizations on campus. Despite all my troubles in life, I’ve come to a point where I can get out of bed each morning and know there are people out there, I can’t wait to see and do stuff with.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Catrina Bennett

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Catrina Bennett:

Catrina Bennett holds up a sign saying Despite my diagnosis, I refuse to be a statistic
Catrina Bennett

Despite my diagnosis, I refuse to be a statistic. I refuse to be just a warning story about depression, a vague message on an anti-anxiety poster, or part of a number on a graph. I know that, despite my flaws, I am strong enough to change not just my life but also the lives of those around me. My story isn’t perfect or pretty, but it certainly isn’t over.

Even as a child, my fears ran rampant in my mind and were nearly debilitating. When I brushed death in a near drowning, I was more afraid of non-existent sharks in the water than the waves suffocating me. I had few friends and everyone else made fun of the awkward, chubby girl who cried when she failed a math question. No one, not even myself, saw it, but I was crumbling under the pressure of self-invented expectations. Everything was too much, too overwhelming, and too scary.

Then, my parents got a divorce. I was glad to be rid of the late nights listening to screaming matches through thin walls while attempting to stifle my sobs with a pillow. Now, I was terrified that everything I had worked for was now restricted to a simple statistic. More likely to do poorly in school, more likely to be depressed, more likely to commit suicide, more likely (I thought) to fail. I denied my sexuality and nearly lost my best friend in the process. I stopped going to school and dropped from an AP student to a near drop-out. I stopped seeing the point in living. I was becoming a number to everyone around me: number of absences, number of panic attacks, number of medications.

The people in my life were fighting just as hard as I was to keep me afloat. My friends, family, and even teachers banded together and forced me to begin to focus on where I had succeeded in life rather than where I had failed. I began to participate in classes again. The moments when I would answer a question wrong were still devastating, but each joke and nudge in the right direction from my friends increased my determination that tomorrow I would do better. And I did. I graduated in the top 15% of my class. I started talking to my father again. I took up drawing and other hobbies to fill the time between school and work.

Most importantly, I decided that it was my duty to help others who were struggling as well. Before leaving my high school, I made sure that the GSA (gay-straight alliance) was well supported and able to provide a safe space for struggling kids. I started reading more about mental illnesses and coping mechanisms in an effort to make myself better suited to give advice or resources to others. Upon arriving at CCM, I immediately joined our Active Minds chapter. Its members both helped to restore my faith in myself and allowed me to direct others towards the help that they needed.

Today, I am no longer just a number on a chart in a therapist’s office. I may still struggle with and fall prey to the effects of my depression and anxiety. But now, I refuse to let those facts be the only ones which define me. I know that I have the ability to help myself and others. I know that I can change the statistics.

If you are struggling, please know there is help. Some resources you can utilize are the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255, the Crisis Text Line if you text HOME to 741741, and the Counseling Center in the Student Community Center, Room 118.

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.

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Marco Mirlas

The Youngtown Edition (the school newspaper of the County College of Morris) is working with two other CCM clubs this semester, Active Minds and Writers Club, on a series about students in the process of recovery. This series is called “Despite My Diagnosis.” Read one of these stories, by Marco Mirlas:

Marco Mirlas holding up a whiteboard which says, Despite my diagnosis, I have the will to focus.
Marco Mirlas

My diagnosis of ADD, which… which president oversaw the end of the Korean War? Sorry, back on topic. If you couldn’t guess, ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, a fairly common disorder that can be well summarized like this: all of those studies about the shrinking attention span of the modern man don’t come close to what it can be like for us. Sometimes. In fact, as demonstrated in the opening, I am constantly feeling the effects of the disorder, so I can hardly help but let my mind wander. To be clear to anyone who doesn’t recognize the term, it’s actually somewhat dated, at least to the 2000s, and has since been replaced by an equivalent classification of ADHD Inattentive Type.

It can be quite remarkable when I can handle it. If you’re afflicted by it, you may know what I’ll say next. You can be thinking effectively on several things at once, without compromising the task at hand, on a good day. Play a song in your head, think on your agenda for the day, and continue in a conversation without breaking a sweat. On the contrary, during a bad day, it can be difficult to accomplish much of value.

To further elaborate, for the longest time, it was difficult for me to concentrate well enough to do well in classes. But with age comes maturity (sometimes) and more importantly: willpower. It is true that it is difficult to defy one’s nature, but in this instance, it is necessary to try, if you’d rather not resort to medication. You should not see yourself as an irredeemable failure if you miss the mark sometimes, but instead, harden your resolve and learn from your mistakes. To that end, I’m leaving a shout out to the Learning Resource Center, and to the Tutoring Center.

Remember to focus, and above all, to not give up.

The CCM counseling center is located in the downstairs of the student community center in SCC 118 and is available to you as a student. The National Suicide Prevention Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Editor’s Note: If you are in the process of recovery we encourage you to join the members of Active Minds, Writers Club and the Youngtown Edition to become more than your diagnosis and to share your story, contact youngtownedition@gmail.com to find out how.

Chester School District Joins Morris County Stigma-Free Initiative

JOINS COUNTYWIDE EFFORT TO END STIGMA RELATED TO MENTAL ILLNESS AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS

The Board of Education of the Chester School District has passed a Stigma-Free resolution, becoming the latest school district in the county to do so, joining the majority of Morris County towns participating in the countywide effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Both Chester Borough and Chester Township are members of the Stigma-Free initiative, as are 34 of Morris County’s 39 towns.

“We are extremely proud to be part of such a compassionate community and I think that is reflected in our desire to support all of our students, parents and community members by being a part of Stigma Free,’’ said Chester School District Superintendent Christina Van Woert.

The Chester School District is the newest member of a less-than-three-year-old grass roots movement that recognizes the high prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders in our communities.

The Stigma-Free initiative promotes re-education and understanding that can lead to treatment and recovery – minus the stigma associated with these illnesses.

Leaders of this movement from across the county are now working with school districts and faith-based groups to become active participants.

As part of the countywide initiative, residents are urged to take the Stigma Free Pledge: https://morriscountystigmafree.org/take-the-pledge/

“We are pleased that the Chester School District is supporting this Stigma-Free initiative,’’ said Morris County Freeholder Director Doug Cabana. “We look forward to the energy and support that students in Chester Borough and Chester Township  can bring to this initiative in helping affected people seek recovery, without fear of stigma or reprisal.’’

The Morris County Board of Freeholders in 2016 passed a resolution designating Morris County as a Stigma-Free County and asked all of the county’s towns to consider enrolling.

County College of Morris and the Morris County School of Technology have supported the effort, with Montville joining in 2017 as the first school district in the county to pass a resolution to join the initiative. County Sheriff James M. Gannon also has been a leading partner in the effort.

The Stigma-Free initiative encourages participating towns, communities, school districts and organizations to participate in an active way through educational programs, events and/or active discussion.

Morris County has created a Stigma Free website www.morriscountystigmafree.orgto call attention to the initiative, provide information and resources, and a calendar of upcoming events related to mental illness and substance abuse. A Stigma Free Toolkitalso is available for towns, schools, colleges and universities, and faith-based organizations.

The Chester School District is an elementary district responsible for the education of students in Kindergarten through eighth grades.  It serves two municipalities, Chester Borough and Chester Township.

The district is composed of Dickerson Elementary School (K-2), Bragg Intermediate School (3-5), and Black River Middle School (6-8).  Students in grades nine through twelve go to the West Morris Regional High School District.

Here are just a few of many voices in Morris County supporting the Stigma-Free Initiative:

Chester Borough Mayor Janet Hoven: “Mental illness and drug abuse touch the lives of many, not only in Chester Borough, but in all of society. No one should feel less of a person regardless of an illness or addiction.  We support the initiative and hope that through this program, all residents will feel accepted and supported by all.’’

 Chester Township Mayor Marcia Asdal: “We understand that mental illness and addiction affect every community, and we know that no family or school or business is immune. So Chester Township is proud to join the Stigma-Free initiative in Morris County, to help encourage people in our community their friends or family members or colleagues in trouble to seek treatment that could help lead them to recovery.’’

 Montville School Superintendent Rene Rovtar: We feel it is important that students feel that if they are struggling with any mental health issues that they know that it is okay not to be okay, and that many resources are available to help them. We want all of our students and staff to know that the district stands ready to support them with no stigma attached.”

 For information on the disease of mental illness, visit www.nami.org and for information on NAMI’s national Stigma Free effort, visit: https://www.nami.org/stigmafree

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace which results from the judgment by others. When individuals are labeled by their illness, they experience judgment and prejudice. Stigma brings experiences and feelings of shame, embarrassment, distress, hopelessness and reluctance to seek or accept help.