WAYNE, NJ – To help address the rise in depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues that have been growing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayne Township along with several community organization partners are hosting a live (and live-streamed) community forum to provide valuable information and tools to help those who have been quietly suffering in isolation.

This forum will be hosted by Wayne Township, the Wayne Public Schools, the Wayne Education Association, the Wayne Police Department and the Wayne Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse. 

Who should attend? The event flyer states that this is for “All adult community members, Wayne parents, caregivers and educators working with youth.”  In person attendees will receive a $25 food voucher compliments of the Wayne Education Association.

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“We have hosted this forum annually for several years, and the subject matter is very serious,” explained Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano. “However, this year, because of the pandemic, the problems are much worse, so this forum is even more important.”

The event will be held May 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Wayne Valley High School Auditorium. To help maintain social distancing, only 100 people will be allowed to attend in-person so registration by May 16 is required.

If you want to attend the event virtually, via live-streaming, you also need to register by May 16 in order to receive the link to watch.

To register, follow this link: https://forms.gle/TUzqob48oMGESfcc9 

Over 25,000 people in New Jersey have died due to complications of COVID-19, while right here in Wayne, 210 residents have passed away since the pandemic began. Facing fears, dealing with the passing of friends and family and forced isolation can take its toll mentally, increase stress and push people towards drug use as an escape.

A recent study from Boston University showed that the number of adults in America experiencing depression has tripled since the pandemic began. The study estimates that more than one in four U.S. adults have reported symptoms of depression in that time. Anxiety is also on the rise as well as substance abuse, and with the recent legalization of marijuana possession and use, it's likely to only exacerbate the problem.

Before the pandemic, 8.5% of U.S. adults reported being depressed. That number has risen to 27.8% as the country struggles with COVID-19.

These issues don’t only affect adults, children have also been suffering.

“We know that many students and families have been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic and there might be considerable difficulties adjusting back to normal life,” said Assistant Superintendent of Wayne Schools, Donna Reichman. “The upcoming community forum will offer compassionate advice from experienced experts to navigate the pressure of coping with the psychological toll and getting through this time.”

Drug awareness and mental health are two major issues not only impacting our students and families, but all communities,” added WEA President Eda Ferrante. “Being involved with our community is all about helping the students and their families. As unions of teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals and custodians, we feel it is our duty, and also our privilege, to serve our community. Hopefully, we are helping to ensure that Wayne continues to be a safe and enjoyable place to live, as well as attend school.”

Wayne’s Community Forum will feature a presentation from a DEA agent who will discuss the “latest drug trends, including the current prescription drug/opioid crisis, its link to heroin and Fentanyl, newer psychoactive substances/drugs of concern and a briefing on today’s marijuana,” according to the event’s flyer.

There will be a performance by the NJ Mental Health Players – these are trained volunteers who will depict realistic scenarios involving mental health issues. Following this will be an inspiring Recovery Testimony, then an expert panel discussion on mental health and substance abuse.

The expert panel will include:

  • Rebekah Leon, Executive Director of the Passaic County Mental Health Association
  • Henry Balzani, RPh, MS, MD
  • Jack McNiff, Chief of Wayne Police
  • Colleen Baird of the Wayne Counseling and Family Services
  • Lynette Sheard, Director of the NJ Mental Health Players
  • Matthew Grey, LSW, Program Manager of the Family Support Center at Care Plus, NJ
  • A Representative of the DEA
  • Recovery Speaker

Robbin Gulino the Coordinator for the Wayne Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse is asking for people to help spread the word.

“Please Tell Your Friends and Family about this event,” said Gulino. “No one needs to face this alone. Now more than ever, we need to find ways to stay connected with our community. No one should feel alone or without the information, support and help they need.”

To register, follow this link: https://forms.gle/TUzqob48oMGESfcc9