NEWTON, NJ- The Town of Newton recently passed a resolution designating the town Stigma Free. Last week Governor Richard Codey and Julie Bannon of the Codey Fund for Mental Health met with Newton Mayor, council members and township officials along with Newton Superintendent Kennedy Greene and Newton Police Lt Robert Osborn to present the lime green and black Stigma Free signs.
Mayor Helen LeFrois welcomed the governor and explained Councilman Matthew Dickson was the person who brought the Stigma Free initiative to the council’s attention. She shared a copy of the resolution, committing the town to being Stigma Free; treating people with mental health issues with dignity and respect.
Codey said first interactions with people with mental health issues came when his work at the funeral home brought him to Greystone. He talked with people there and heard some disturbing things.
“I said I would do something to help these people if I ever go the chance,” Codey said.
Codey spoke about his experiences going undercover at mental health facilities; hospitals, rooming houses and shelters around the state in his role as chair of the New Jersey Health committee. Those operations uncovered a host of problems with the facilities and the systems in place to support people with mental illness.
“What I saw was pretty bad,” Codey said about the operation at the Marlboro Mental Hospital. At least 35% of the people working there had criminal records.
Codey also spoke openly about his wife’s battle with several postpartum depression. Seeing the stigma through her eyes deepened his commitment to addressing the issue.
Codey also spoke about cultural changes he has witnessed since his childhood; fewer siblings, fewer friendships- people are lonely. He said statistics about teen suicide and attempted suicides.
“You can get well,” Codey said was part of the message the organization is trying to spread. “It’s okay not to be okay but it’s not okay not to ask for help. Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.”
Codey said relationships that are forged in school can save lives. Julie Bannon, Executive Directory of the Codey Fund said their organization provides free “Auxiliary Workshop” training to school districts to help non-certificated staff understand the difference they can make in a troubled student’s life.
Newton superintendent Kennedy Greene talked about the school districts efforts to support troubled students. He told Codey about the recently opened Green Room. He shared the district’s efforts to bridge the gap between school, home and needed services.
Newton schools efforts have come together in response to data and student surveys, Greene said.
“We are bringing the community directly into the life of the school,” Greene said. “Mental health providers can come into the school to help students.”
He said the school may provide the contact information and a place to meet within the school but the coordination and commitment is up to the family, Greene said they do have someone on staff to assist families in navigating insurance as well.
“We do better when we work with our community,” Greene said.
The resolution Declaring the Town of Newton a Stigma Free Town was approved at the May 13, 2019 town council meeting. Resolution 124-2019 says in part, the town will “support the elimination of the stigma associated with mental health illness, promote public awareness of mental health issues and work to overcome stigma, stereotyping, discrimination and removing any barriers to recovery.”
“Everyone wants to wear pink,” Codey said referring to Breast Cancer awareness campaigns. “Who will wear lime and black.”
Codey brought two Stigma Free Town signs. LeFrois said they will be added to the 10 purchased by the town to be posted at every entrance to the town.
“We’re so proud to have the signs and be part of the program,” LeFrois said. “Especially because so many people come to the county seat to get services.”