HACKENSACK, N.J. -- People with physical illnesses unfortunately have an advantage over those with mental health issues, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco told nearly 100 private and public sector leaders from throughout the state Wednesday. But he's working to change that.
“There’s no shame in mental illness,” an at-time tearful Tedesco told the gathering at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the Mental Health First Aid for New Jersey Partners Summit in New Brunswick. “You should be able to talk openly about it and have the support of loved ones.
"You should not only have access to treatment," he added, "but also seek the treatment that works for you however often you and your doctor decide is necessary, for however long is necessary, without judgment.
"You should be able to ask for help and acknowledge your setbacks without fear or shame. -- because, when it comes down to it, the brain is an organ, just like the lungs, heart, or stomach.”
Tedesco discussed Bergen County’s Stigma-Free Initiative, which supports education, awareness, and access to resources for mental health and the treatment of mental illness.
Since he became county executive, participation in Stigma-Free has grown from his hometown of Paramus to include nearly 40 of the county's 70 municipalities.
He also highlighted Bergen County’s effort to offer free mental health first aid courses, at no cost to taxpayers.
The County has a team of 30 volunteer mental health first aid trainers, who each lead three free training sessions (which can otherwise cost up to $200 per participant) for community organizations and residents.
Since 2015, Bergen County has hosted 37 free mental health first aid training sessions for 654 participants.
“Our goal is to see every community in Bergen County, and hopefully across the state, adopt Stigma-Free initiatives and help us bring mental health first aid training and awareness to the broader public," Tedesco said.
"Making mental health a priority strengthens our communities,” he said. “It encourages us to look out for one another, to find compassion and understanding and reject judgment, and that impacts the way we talk to one another and the ways we work together."
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