Crusaders against mental health stigma awarded
HAMILTON - A year ago, Kenny Baker lost his fight with depression and threw himself in front of a train, ending his life at 19 and leaving his loved ones devastated.On the eve of the first anniversary of Kenny’s suicide, his younger sister, Katelyn, stood in front of 80 people this week and spoke not only of the grief the family has endured during the last year, but also of the hope that has blossomed from that grief.
“No one wants to talk about mental illness or suicide, people just don’t understand, but we’ve been making changes,” the 16-year-old West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North student said after receiving an Ambassador Award from the Governor’s Council on Mental Health Stigma for her work to dispel the stifling myths that often keep people – especially teens – from getting the support that can save their lives.
“I think attitudes are changing, people are listening” the Plainsboro resident said, recalling how her brother’s depression was sometimes mistaken for laziness and how he suffered from stigma, before and after his death. The family successfully objected to school plans to cover Kenny’s photo in the year book, she said. “Why would we cover his face?”
Katelyn and her family are on a mission to educate people about mental illness and suicide and the need to make sure the topic is not hushed or shrouded in shame.
She has set up an information table at the school and founded an organization called Attitudes in Reverse (AIR), which aims to raise awareness about mental illness. She was planning to address the PTA this week and AIR is sponsoring a concert featuring several bands at a concert this tomorrow (Saturday) during the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI Mercer County) walk at Washington Crossing State Park.
“Just because you might not see mental illness doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s like air; it’s all around you,” she said.
Katelyn was among several individuals, agencies and organizations that received ambassador awards from the council during a May 18 ceremony at the New Jersey Forensic Center in Hamilton. Some of the recipients have mental disorders, others are advocates for people with mental illness, but all had one thing in common: They work hard to eliminate stigma.
“We applaud all the recipients here today,” said Council Executive Director Celina Gray. “Your partnership will continue to be critical,” Department of Human Services Deputy Commissioner Kevin Martone told the recipients and others attending the ceremony. “We need to ensure that people with mental illness feel like they are part of a community.”
This was the Council’s second annual award ceremony.
Also receiving an ambassador award was the Cop2Cop program and staff, a nationally recognized peer-to-peer program whereby trained staff and volunteers man a 24-7 hotline for mental issues experienced by law enforcement and their families.
"Members of the law enforcement community must deal with the impact of stress from the enormous responsibility of safeguarding the public. We are privileged that Cop 2 Cop has become an important support, making significant strides against the threat of suicide and against the stigma related to seeking help," said Chris Kosseff, M.S., chief executive officer for UMDNJ-University Behavioral HealthCare (UBHC). "We are grateful for the opportunity to assist those who serve, and we are deeply appreciative of this recognition."
Other recipients this year include:
- Taran Sayan, 17, of East Brunswick, who raises money for people with mental illness and performs community service to teach recreational and basic living skills to those living with the disorders.
- Sean Campbell of River Edge, a Hunter College student and motivational speaker who speaks to young people about his personal experiences with mental illness and recovery.
- CPC Behavioral Healthcare – For program and service excellence
- NAMI Sussex - For exceptional volunteer efforts
- Campaign to Save Mental Health Services for a video campaign supporting service funding.
- Bergen County Mental Health Task Force for raising awareness, combating stigma, and improving.
- Mike Ippoliti of Edgewater Park, The Burlington Youth Partnership and the DCBHS Youth Council for taking a leading role in a groundbreaking effort to bring the voice of youth into the behavioral mental health system through an opportunity provided by DCHBHS – they made stigma a formal component of their guiding document
- Shrabanee Shah of Millstone, a family advocate who, inspired by her son’s journey, has become a strong voice in the effort to fight stigma and is a tireless volunteer and advocate
- Bipolar Alliance of Succasunna – A grassroots group wholly dedicated to addressing the issues of bipolar disorders for individuals and families through awareness and understanding
- Drew Horn – of Freehold and his Turn a Frown Around Foundation (TAFA) for creating a system whereby individuals in long-term mental heath facilities are assigned a “friend” to provide support through the recovery process.
- Jennifer Jean Miller – Journalist, NJ Alternative Press – for fair and balanced reporting to raise awareness and combat stigma
- Dr. Lois Oppenheim – Montclair State University Professor - Writer, Producer, Director of “How to Touch a Hot Stove,” a film whose goal is to talk about stigma, with a focus on students
- Sheryll Franco – Filmmaker – “Crazy Enough to Care” and “How to Touch a Hot Stove” – Sheryll received a Voice Awards recognition for her work on “Crazy Enough to Care” and is the filmmaker for “How to Touch a Hot Stove” and comes to MH through her own journey and commitment to raising awareness and combating stigma
- The Community We Serve – Award-winning NAMI NJ training video for law enforcement for how to interface with individuals experiencing mental illness in crisis, a video now being used not only in NJ but nationally
- Rutgers University-Newark, Department of Arts, Culture and Media and Witness Justice for the GlassBook Project, whereby students and other individuals express the journey of trauma survivors through the creation of glass books with a goal of combating stigma and raising awareness
- Monmouth County Education Initiative – An ongoing collaborative effort of Monmouth County educators and the mental health community that integrates schools with mental and behavioral health services, incorporating 185 schools in Monmouth County
- Got Blue Collaborative - depression awareness campaign – Jewish Family Services of MetroWest, Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, JESPY House, Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest, Bipolar Alliance of Succasunna, and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest.
- NJ Women’s Missionary Society – Statewide faith based group of women dedicated to a focus on community, now focused on raising mental health awareness and combating stigma
- Monmouth University Coming Home Project – for making mental health a formal part of their social work curriculum and including ongoing Veterans mental health awareness on campus