NJ Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma’s Hosts Successful First Official Event since Reconvening

October 3, 2022

When Glenn Close, actress and co-founder of Bring Change to Mind, said, ‘What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation,’ she captured the spirit and mission of the Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma, which was reactivated in January 2022 after a hiatus of several years,” said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, Chair of the Council and President and CEO of NJAMHAA and Executive Director of the New Jersey Mental Health Institute, in her welcome remarks for the Council’s media roundtable earlier today. “Never has there been a more necessary time for the Council to reconvene and work to end stigma and discrimination and ensure health equity for all.”

In his keynote presentation, Otto Wahl, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Hartford and Author of Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness and Telling Is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma, defined the triple burden of mental illness: “conditions that are painful, distressing, and even debilitating; a mental healthcare system that is often underfunded, disorganized, and unresponsive to their needs; and unfavorable attitudes of others towards those with mental illness – stigma.” He then shared positive and negative examples from various media and explained how journalists can help increase understanding and acceptance of mental illness. These best practices include using person-first language; not using slang or disrespectful terms; not associating mental illness with violence; incorporating the perspectives of individuals; and sharing more stories of successful treatment and recovery. “People with mental illness deserve reporting without harming,” Dr. Wahl stressed.

Following the keynote, Dr. Wahl moderated a panel discussion with individuals with lived experience journalists. Emily Grossman, MA, CPRP, NYCPS-P, Member, New Jersey Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma and Training Director, Coordinated Behavioral Care, New York, and Shauna Moses, Vice President, Public Affairs and Member Services, NJAMHAA, shared their personal experiences with mental illness and stigma, and positive experiences being featured in various publications and online.

Lilo Stainton, Healthcare Writer, NJ Spotlight News, shared an encouraging observation. “This year, many publications have made a conscious effort to report more on mental health issues, in part because it is becoming more of a national issue, and in part because they are becoming more personally affected by mental health than in the past,” she said. In fact, NJ Spotlight News recently dedicated a reporter to behavioral health, while Stainton will continue covering other aspects of health and the healthcare system.

Valerie Canady, Publishing Editor, Mental Health Weekly, pointed out that celebrities are bringing mental illness “into the forefront, making us all aware.” While this is certainly positive, most people cannot relate to celebrities, as Marie D. Verna, MPAP, President, Dominion Behavioral Health Policy, LLC, noted. Verna writes a behavioral health column for Hopewell Valley News. “I want to let people know that this is happening around them and it’s not about anybody’s character,” she said.

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