Religions and Spirituality

Somerville Church Hosts Community Dialogue on Mental Health Stigmas

SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Central Jersey Community Coalition, African American Community Mental Health Outreach and the North Plainfield Stigma Free Zone Campaign are partnering to sponsor a community dialogue on how the stigma so often associated with having a mental health diagnosis reveals itself within different cultures.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “A person’s beliefs, norms, values and language affect how we perceive and experience mental health conditions. Cultural differences can influence whether or not we seek help, what type of help we seek, what coping styles and supports we have and what treatments might work for us.”  

One in five adults experiences a diagnosable mental illness every year (NAMI) and many of these individuals do not seek help because of fear, shame or judgment from friends, family and co-workers. Far too many people suffer alone rather than seek help due to the stigma that so often accompanies mental health diagnoses.

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Stigma causes unnecessary fear, shame and embarrassment and can present a significant barrier between suffering and resources that will enable people to achieve meaningful recovery. With education, open conversation and advocacy we hope to create a more compassionate community, where we see the person not the illness.   

One of the outcomes the organizers hope to achieve is the establishment of Somerset County as a “Mental Health Stigma-Free Zone”. Following in the footsteps of Bergen, Morris and Passaic Counties, the mission of the “Mental Health Stigma-Free Zone” campaign is to ensure that people have access to compassionate, quality mental healthcare and that the barrier of stigma so often associated with mental illness is overcome through public awareness and education.

“Diverse communities face many barriers such as higher levels of stigma, misinformation about mental health and language that prevent them from receiving care. Even when they are able to access treatment, these communities often receive poorer quality care due to lack of cultural competence, bias and inadequate resources. This results in misdiagnosis, dropping out of treatment and a longer time to achieve recovery."

Communities in Somerset County as well as across the state of New Jersey need to provide safe spaces for our neighbors. To date the Borough of North Plainfield is the only community in the county to declare itself a “Stigma Free-Zone, having passed a Council Resolution this year. We need to inform and educate spaces filled with myths and misinformation. We have the capacity as caring people to empathize and increase hope in spaces filled with hopelessness. We must listen to gain trust in spaces filled with distrust.

Speakers will include

  • Mark T. Williams, BSN, RN-BC of NAMI’s African American Community Mental Health Outreach & the North Plainfield Stigma Free Zone Campaign
  • Caroline Hann, LCSW & Co-Artistic Director of the Meta Theatre Company
  • Edina Brown, BS, Psy, Human Rights and Mental Health Advocate
  • Tiffany Mayers, LSW
  • Aurora Serrano, Stigma Free-Zone Ambassador
  • Kidy Pena, Stigma Free-Zone Ambassador
  • Jenna Friedlander, BS, Psych Rehabilitation
  • Jacquese Armstrong, BA, Journalism and self published poet

Topics will include how mental illness, treatment, and stigma are experienced by various cultural groups, including African American and Latino communities.  


Speakers will share their expertise, personal stories, and creative work to inform the attendees about the challenges mental health stigma can create for individuals seeking services when cultural needs are not taken into account. They will share personal stories of strength, perseverance and success. They will also share poetry that reflects the passion, disappointments and triumphs of a life spent navigating life with a mental illness. Finally, they will address how white privilege and white supremacy impact the therapeutic community.

The dialogue begins at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept 18, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Somerset Hills, 123 East Cliff St., Somerville. For more information, contact Mark T. Williams, BSN, RN-BC, at 908-756-2988, or email NPStigmaFreeZone@gmail.com.  

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