BY MIRANDA SPETACCINO
A resolution was passed April 27, 2016 by the Morris County Freeholders supporting the designation of Morris County as a Stigma-Free Community, focusing primarily on mental illness and substance abuse disorders. County College of Morris is one of the communities involved, joining the initiative about a month ago.
Stigma is “a mark of shame or discredit” as defined by Merriam-Webster, and according to the Morris County Stigma-Free Communities Initiative’s website, “stigma is the primary barrier to the achievement of wellness and recovery and full social integration.”
Laurie Becker, the Morris County mental health administrator, said that the focus of the Morris County Stigma-Free Communities Initiative is to cultivate an environment in which those struggling with mental illness and/or substance use disorders don’t feel they are being stigmatized. They are also focusing on educating the public on what those illnesses actually are.
“We want to make sure that everybody understands what those illness are and what they aren’t,” Becker said. “We’re hoping to provide a lot of good facts and information to dispel any myths.”
While the primary focus of the initiative is on the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders, it hopes to spread to other areas that have experienced stigma as well.
“Whoever feels that this is something that is of importance to them, we welcome,” Becker said. “We always say we’re inclusive, not exclusive.”
There are currently 13 towns in Morris County that have proclaimed themselves stigma-free, and the goal of the initiative is to have all 39 towns in the county, as well as corporations, agencies, and schools to be involved, Becker said. CCM is one of the most recent to have joined the Morris County Stigma-Free Communities Initiative.
Lisa Volante, a counselor in CCM’s Counseling Services office, said that the campus’ stigma-free designation is young, and that everyone is still becoming educated on what it means, exactly.
“[The initiative] is community wide, going through all the clubs, the faculty and the staff,” Volante said. “It’s something that the whole school will have to contribute to and be on board [with]. It is a process.”
As for CCM students that may be trying to cope with mental illness and/or substance-use disorders, the counselors at the counseling office are all licensed professional counselors and are more than willing to help, stigma-free.
Volante assured that everything said to a counselor in the office is kept confidential, unless it becomes apparent that a person is a danger to themselves or others, as is standard across all therapeutic practices, which shouldn’t deter students from seeking help.
While the counseling office usually works with students in need for a semester or two, they can refer those that require more intensive help to many other resources in the community that are available.
Michelle Johnson, a liberal arts major at CCM, said that she has seen the green stigma-free logo in towns outside of Morris County, and is glad to hear about the Morris County Stigma-Free Communities Initiative as well as CCM’s involvement in it.
“I love the idea of living in an inclusive, non-discriminatory environment,” Johnson said. “Everyone should feel safe enough to ask for help, especially at school.”
The next Morris County Stigma-Free Communities Initiative meeting will take place Thursday, April 6 at 2:30 p.m. with the location to be announced. To stay updated, or for more information on the initiative, visit the Stigma-Free Communities Initiative’s website at: http://hs.morriscountynj.gov/stigma-free/.