by Carolyne Volpe Curley / Carolyne@WestEssexNOW.com
"Stigma is the primary barrier
WEST CALDWELL, NJ - It's commonplace these days to see pink ribbons, shirts, bracelets and balloons all used to promote the discussion of breast cancer. But it's not so long ago that the discussion was a private one held quietly among female family members and intimate friends. Only through the time and dedication of people who have worked to promote breast cancer awareness, has breast cancer become an acceptable part of social conversation and the stigma of dealing with the disease and its treatments has continued to be lessened.
In the past year nearly 60 million people - almost 25% of all Americans - experienced a mental health disorder. Every 15 minutes someone in the country takes their own life when succumbing to overwhelming and painful feelings of despondency. Fifty-percent of adults with mental illness had signs and symptoms by age 14.
And yet, despite great advances having been made in the field of mental health, people who suffer from psychiatric disorders still continue to face stereotyping, work and housing discrimination, insurance coverage inequity, bullying, and even physical violence. Even more discouraging is the fact that fewer than 30% of those with a
diagnosable mental disorder ever seek treatment. Medical professionals believe that it's the stigma of being labeled as having a mental illness which creates a fear and shame so pervasive in individuals that it prevents many people from seeking help.
Recently, a bright green sign appeared at Crane's Park on Bloomfield Avenue: "West Caldwell is a STIGMA FREE TOWN sponsored by The Codey Fund for Mental Health." In an interview with West Essex Now, former New Jersey Governor and current State Senator Dick Codey explained that West Caldwell was the first municipality to pass an ordinance calling for a "Stigma" sign to be displayed in their town.
"First came West Caldwell, and then soon enough East Hanover,
Codey explained that the sign is meant to draw awareness to the public's attitude towards mental illness and the opportunities that await those who are silently suffering from a psychiatric disability. The hope is that soon the discussion around mental illness and its treatments will be socially acceptable and those who suffer from it will have no shame.
"It's about getting to the point
The Codey Fund for Mental Health was established in 2012 by the former governor and his wife Mary Jo Codey, of Roseland. The Codey's established the charitable organization with the belief that those with mental illness have a right to excellent health care and a high quality of life. The couple believes that the stigma associated with mental illness is the single biggest barrier that prevents people who suffer from mental health disorders getting the treatment that can change their lives forever.
From it's conception, the private foundation has supported programs which benefit families, homeless people and the patients suffering from severe psychiatric illness who are committed in hospitals. The Codey's have been vocal spokespersons on behalf of the mentally ill; Mary Jo, in particular, openly discusses how she suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of their two sons. Since 1993, she has often recounted in public her gratitude for her doctors and the medications and shock treatments which she believe saved her life.
Mary Jo is also a survivor of breast cancer. She has noted that during her chemotherapy treatments people would encourage her with positive affirmations and encouragement. However, when receiving her shock treatments, no one came forward with supportive comments and she has stated that it made her feel ashamed.
As First Lady of New Jersey, Mary Jo helped launch the "Recognizing Postpartum Depression: Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign to bring greater awareness to the public about postpartum depression. Because of the Codey's focusing on the issue of childbirth and mental illness, New Jersey became the first state in the country to require that all new mothers be screened for postpartum depression before they are dismissed from the hospital.
Dick Codey's times spent undercover in mental health facilities to expose their conditions and treatment of the patients has been well-documented. While governor in 2004, Codey commissioned a Mental Health Task Force which over the course over four months thoroughly reviewed the state's mental health care programs and their funding.
The task force's final recommendations, titled "New Jersey’s Long and Winding Road To Treatment, Wellness and Recovery," included 15 issues the advisory panel felt needed to be addressed by the state of New Jersey to improve access to and provide for better quality patient care. The task force identified areas of immediate relief needed in New Jersey's psychiatric industry and also provided a blueprint for developing a quality state mental health care program.
Chairing the governor's Mental Health Task Force was West Caldwell resident, Robert N. Davison, MA, LPC, who is the Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Essex County, located in Montclair. Davison commented that many people are reluctant to seek treatment because they do not want to be perceived as embodying the negative stereotypes which are often perpetrated in society. Additionally, many people simply fail to recognize that the emotional issues they are experiencing are actually symptoms of a more serious psychiatric illness. Davison believes that only by lifting the burden of shame and stigma of failure can Individuals first recognize the symptoms of mental illness and then go forward with seeking out the treatment and recovery programs which are available to them.
Mood Disorders Treatment
At the Mental Health Association, the staff concentrates a great deal of their time helping individuals cope with "Mood Disorders," also known as "Affective Disorders." Typical disorders they treat include:
Severe or lasting fears or anxieties including:
The association's staff is available to help through their Help Line which is available
Monday through Friday, from 8:30am to 7pm. Individuals may also call 973-509-9777.
Davison recommends the Mental Health America whose motto is "There is no health without mental health." The site has an online Mental Health Screening tool which aims at helping individuals determine whether they are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
West Caldwell's Mayor Joe Tempesta, Jr. was quick to embrace the message of speaking out against the stigma of mental illness.
"I have always believed that most people in this country are caring individuals,
Tempesta detailed that one of the cornerstones of his administration was to do something for those living with developmental disabilities, especially the children. Early on, the township's recreation department established the "Buddies and Shadows Program" especially created for children with disabilities. When approached by the former governor, Tempesta expressed that he was more than open to working with the Codey Fund for Mental Health.
"When Governor Codey started the Codey Fund for Mental Health he asked me to help promote awareness and without hesitation I said yes," Tempesta said.
Codey explained that the biggest challenge is getting the word out to homes and communities to let people know what services are available to them.
"I am very pleased, thrilled really, with Mayor Tempesta who stepped
With raising public awareness of mental health issues as it's primary focus, The Codey Fund supports organizations and programs that:
“Our aim is to end, probably not in my lifetime but in my children’s lifetime,
To make a tax deductible donation in support of The Codey Fund for Mental Health, individuals should download and complete this form found online here and mail it along with the donation to :
“For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness
As municipal governing bodies around New Jersey begin to embrace the message of "Stigma Free" which West Caldwell is promoting, the hope is that mental illness will no longer be a source of shame or embarrassment and all individuals enduring a disability will be treated with proper dignity and respect. The Codey's believe that, ultimately, the more that people are made aware of the effective options which are widely available to treat mood disorders and other psychiatric conditions, the more society will recognize that mental illness is a public health issue, no different than any other medical disorder.
"This is not a political issue, this is a humanitarian issue
The Codey Fund for Mental Health
300 Executive Drive, Suite 360
West Orange, NJ 07052
Mental Health Association of Essex County
Executive Director: Robert N. Davison
33 South Fullerton Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07042
The Codey Fund is qualified as a charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to the Codey Fund are tax deductible to the maximum extent allowed by law.