Sharing Personal Experiences Helps Eliminate Stigma and Save Lives

NJAMHAA and AIR™ Aim to Prevent Suicide by Encouraging Conversations
about Mental Health; Conference to Be Held September 23, 2019

September 16, 2019

The most common reason why individuals struggling with mental health issues do not seek help is stigma, which engenders fear, embarrassment and a sense of shame. However, since mental health disorders are real illnesses, there should not be any judgment. Education is essential for eliminating stigma among those who have a lack of knowledge or misperceptions, and to prevent a stigmatizing outlook from developing among youth. As part of their ongoing efforts to eliminate stigma, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA) and Attitudes In Reverse® (AIR™) will host their Seventh Annual Suicide Prevention Conference, Story Tellers: It's Never too Early to Talk to Children about Mental Health, presented by and co-sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) - New Jersey Chapter. This event will be held on September 23, 2019, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the HOPE Tower, Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center, 1945 Route 33, Neptune, NJ.

"The most powerful way to eliminate stigma is through story telling. Sharing personal experiences is the best way to elicit responses from individuals of all ages and encouraging them to seek treatment for themselves and their loved ones," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA.

"We are encouraged by the new state law that requires mental health education for students in grades kindergarten through 12th grades. This education will help prevent youth from developing a judgmental perspective on mental health disorders and individuals who have them, and it will help correct misunderstandings and eliminate discrimination," said Shauna Moses, Vice President, Public Affairs and Member Services, NJAMHAA.

"Between 6 and 18% of students at each of our educational presentations speak up about their mental health struggles after learning that mental health disorders are real illnesses that no one brings upon themselves and about coping mechanisms to strengthen their mental health on an ongoing basis, as well as during difficult times," said AIR Co-founder Tricia Baker, YMHFA, CPDT-KA.

"Another key factor in fostering these conversations is that we share our story about having family members with mental health disorders and losing loved ones to suicide, and we reinforce the fact that suicide can be prevented. Everyone needs to feel comfortable speaking up in order for this to happen," added Kurtis Baker, YMHFA, CFP®.

"It is inspiring, as well as educational, when individuals share their mental health struggles and they cope with them. However, discussions more commonly take place following news reports of suicide deaths. The ideal is to have conversations on an ongoing basis to prevent suicide by encouraging individuals to speak up and seek help when they need it," Moses stated.

Medical and behavioral healthcare providers; teachers and education administrators; state legislators and policy-makers and their staff; and others who have and/or work with children and adolescents are strongly encouraged to participate in the conference on September 23, 2019. The keynote presentations at this event will be Mental Health First Aid in Preventing Suicide by Jacqueline Bienenstock, DNP, RN-BC, Director, Acute Care, Hackensack Meridian Health - Carrier Clinic; and Child and Youth Suicide: A Growing Phenomenon that Needs to Be Reversed, by Maureen Brogan, LPC, Statewide Traumatic Loss Coalition Coordinator, Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, and Wendy Sefcik, Mental Health Advocate and Chair, New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council.

In addition, Rebecca McLelland-Crawley, EdD, National Board Certified Teacher, Community Middle School, West Windsor-Plainsboro, NJ Regional School District, and some of her students will present on How Young People Are Struggling and How They Are Working on Changing It. Following this presentation will be a panel discussion, Story Tellers: Healing and Helping Others, featuring Cynthia Chazen, Mental Health Advocate; Peter Lee Kramer, a student at Rider University pursuing a degree in psychology; and Fiona Purcell, author of The Queen who Saved Herself, a book that helps adults speak with children about substance use disorders.

After the panel discussion, Tricia Baker and Dr. Thomas A. Smith, Superintendent, Hopewell Valley Regional School District, will share the impact of AIR's Therapy Dog Program. The conference will end on an inspiring note with a performance by Tess Cameron, a teenager with musical and other artistic talents.

Click here to register for this event.

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