News & Events

“Despite My Diagnosis…” Stigma Story by CCM Student Rachel Eckert

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 Rachel Eckert:


Hold on, pain ends.

Rachel Eckert holding a dry erase board saying 'Hold on, pain ends.'
Rachel Eckert

I hear this phrase over and over again. Whether it be by professionals or friends, everybody tells me that. I knew it was true. In theory, anyway. But I always had such a hard time seeing that and understanding that. I didn’t understand how the anguish I had felt for so many years could ever end. Even if I only temporarily felt better, it was better than where I was. I never expected to magically get better. Because that isn’t how it happens. You don’t wake up one day and tell yourself “I’m not depressed anymore” and go on your merry way. I know, however, that is how some people think. It doesn’t go away overnight, that sadness deep in your belly. I knew that much, but never thought about what came next. In the past few months, I have learned that when you are so sad and hurt all of the time, a slight improvement feels miles better than where you came from. Unfortunately, that slight improvement also feels like you crawled a mile to get there.

I was at rock bottom. No, I was lower than rock bottom. I was in rock bottoms basement. It’s a place I never realized existed until my rock bottom somehow turned even lower. The depression and anxiety were getting the best of me. I felt awful all of the time. But I am not asking for your pity. That’s not where I am anymore. When you’re in rock bottoms basement, you can’t get any lower. And for that I was thankful.

One morning, I decided to take recovery head on. I had plenty of setbacks and I didn’t feel better immediately. In fact, I almost felt worse because of the fact that I didn’t feel better. It took me months to get where I am now. To some, where I am is still so low. But for me, this is the best I have ever felt.

Hold on, pain ends. Maybe not right now. Maybe not in three months. The way you feel won’t be the same. I am still depressed and I am anxious, but it does not pain me to be alive. It does not pain me to get out of bed every morning. You may never feel 100%, but the way you feel now cannot stay this way forever. So when you are sad and want to give up, have hope. Hold on, pain ends.

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.

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 to find out how.

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.

How Morris County puts a bull’s-eye on New Jersey’s drug epidemic

From NJTV:

Two years ago, Morris County launched its Narcan 2.0 program. It offers recovery coaches through treatment for those on the brink of death but revived with naloxone. [Prosecutor Frederic] Knapp says 60 percent of those offered help accept it.

“Hopefully we’re doing the right thing, but seeing these numbers go up despite our efforts is really horrific. But it doesn’t dissuade us. In fact, it convinces us to work harder,” Knapp said.

Read the full article, How Morris County puts a bull’s-eye on New Jersey’s drug epidemic.

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.

Stigma-Free Conversation about Opioid Epidemic — Dec. 5 at Whippany Park High School

Former NFL Player Talks About Use and Recovery; and Mom and Daughter Share Their Story

The Hanover Township Substance Awareness Council will present “A Conversation About the Opioid Epidemic” on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at Whippany Park High School.

Listen to their stories, ask questions, and be part of the conversation.

Jeff Hatch was a University of Pennsylvania graduate and first-team football All American. He was drafted by the N.Y. Giants and played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will discuss his journey from injury and substance abuse to long-term recovery.

A mother and daughter will tell their family tale of opioid abuse. Kayla Grammer reflects on her teenage substance use and her route from addiction to recovery. Mom, Tracy Smith, speaks to the fight to keep her daughter healthy. Listen to their story and how it could help your family.

Admission to this event is free and open to all local and county residents. Don’t let a town border stop you from driving to Hanover Township and visiting Whippany Park High School for this event on Wednesday evening.

Whippany Park High School is located at 165 Whippany Road, Whippany, N.J. 07981.

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.

Boonton schools look to aid students’ mental health

By Anthony Lusardi, contributing writer of The Citizen:

BOONTON – Improving mental health of students in the grades K-12 district is the goal of a new initiative known as “THRIVE.”

When the Board of Education met on Nov.5, two of the school district’s mental health professionals, Melissa Bialick and Robin Schwalb, spoke of the volunteer initiative.

THRIVE is a committee dedicated to helping Boonton students strive to improve mental health, increase self-esteem and teach resiliency.

“This initiative was created by Robin and I because as mental health professionals we recognized that these issues, depression, anxiety, suicide, harassment intimidation and bullying, behavioral disorders, and others, significantly impact our student body, thus impacting our staff and community,” said Bialick.

“We wanted a space and a committee to serve as a preventative method for managing these issues.”

The goals of THRIVE include educating and spreading awareness of mental health issues to the school community, assessing and identifying the needs of the school district community in regards to mental health, helping to increase the resiliency and coping skills of the student body, increasing a positive climate throughout the district and spreading awareness of the proper safety procedures and protocols to follow in relation to situations that depend heavily on mental health issues.

THRIVE was first implemented during the 2017-2018 school year. Since then, the committee has held quarterly meetings with all mental-health and wellness stakeholders and has conducted a needs assessment at the district level.

They have also provided school staff with multiple professional development sessions and activities in topics related to mental health, adopted and incorporated a new curriculum for health classes to educate students on sensitive topics, created an online forum, which can be found on the Boonton schools’ website, and educated the board on the committee’s plans for the coming school year.

“The THRIVE committee is made up of staff only at this point,” said Schwalb.

“I will be starting a student advisory group very soon to make sure our students have a voice in the direction of THRIVE’s future activities. The students will be applying and will be selected by me,” she said.

“I hope to have them participate in part of our future meetings. This school year, we plan to increase our student education on mental health and coping skills,” she added.

“We are training all the district staff in regards to the newly published guidelines on transgender students and having an outside expert on gender non-conforming students. We are also starting work on a Mental Health Resource Fair in April of 2019.”

Schwalb has been a social worker on the Boonton High School’s Child Study Team for the past 16 years. She also provides counseling, crisis intervention and consultation to school staff and parents on all aspects of child/adolescent mental health. Furthermore, she is a co-adviser for Club Alliance, the high school’s LGBTQ club.

Bialick has been a psychologist at Boonton High School for the last three years. She is also the advisor of the high school’s Key Club, an after-school club open to all students that are interested in service leadership. Furthermore, she is a Gateway Mentor for Boonton’s Gateway Academy, a gifted and talented program.

Artists and Poets Wanted!

The expressive arts have many health benefits that support mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.  Singing and drumming promote relaxation, a sense of group identity and a feeling of belonging, providing an opportunity for immediate engagement in a music experience.

On December 12th, beginning at 2:00 pm, Collaborative Support Programs of NJ’s (CSPNJ) Morris Wellness Center members will perform as a group the original song that they co-wrote “Love Each Other,“ along with poetry, a guided drum circle, an art exhibit and more. Don’t miss this opportunity come together in Celebrating Wellness Through Creative Expression! Join us at 1259 Rt 46, Building 4, Door 4D in Parsippany.

The Morris Community Wellness Center is looking for visual artists and poets to participate in the event by showcasing their artwork and reading their poetry related to mental health or addiction.

For consideration, please submit online at before 12/5/18.

Wellness Event flyer. Featuring music, art, poetry and drumming, the event will be held on December 12.