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Bergen LEADS Class of 2014 Present Public Forum: A Real Discussion on Mental Health

bergen LeadsBergen County–Bergen LEADS is the County’s premier civic leadership program for adults.  Founded in 2008 and sponsored by the Volunteer Center of Bergen County, this year-long learning experience provides participants with an opportunity to explore County issues,  interact with key community leaders and enhance leadership skills.

On June 10th, the Bergen LEADS Class of 2014 presented a  Public Forum:  A Real Discussion on Mental Health, which was the culmination of their seminar year.  Several mental health providers in Bergen County have joined forces to establish the Bergen County Mental Health Advocacy Board.  In October, the Advocacy Board asked the class to create a dialogue on the county level that would draw attention to and address the stigma of mental health.  The goal was to address social misconceptions, public policy, advocacy, and the delivery of mental health services and to start talking about it.

Mental illness is a term often describing “those people” or “that population” with “those problems.”  But, who exactly are those people?  The Bergen LEADS Class explored those questions, and in doing their research for the Public Forum, found that the public mind perpetuates an image of a distressed person with his/head in his  hands, or a homeless person mumbling to herself, but the actual picture is much more familiar.  It’s the people we see every day: our neighbors, our co-workers, our spouses, and even ourselves.  We can no longer pretend that a good job, nice clothes and a smiling face are indicators of wellness, because these issues can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income.

Forum Moderator was Robert N. Davison, MA, LPC, Executive Director, Mental Health Association of Essex County, who gave an overview of where mental health policy stands today, with his recommendations on how it can change, which includes adding more beds for patients in hospitals and providing more choices in treating mentally ill patients exhibiting psychoses, besides incarceration.

The Bergen LEADS class presented a history of how mentally ill people have been treated through the ages, gave an overview of the various types of mental illness and advocated for the development throughout Bergen County of “Stigma-Free Zones”—where residents can feel comfortable seeking information and help for mental health issues, without fear of judgment.  Several Bergen LEADERS shared their own struggles with mental health, which really brought the discussion home and provided an intimate, thoughtful look at this increasingly important topic.

The Bergen LEADS Class of 2014 demonstrated that we live in a world where 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness during their lifetime.  So, they ask, isn’t anyone talking about it?  As a nation, we continue to struggle to have an open, honest conversation about mental health, but are still allowing misconceptions, fear, social consequences, and discrimination to keep us silent.

The LEADS Graduating Class of 2014 started the conversation.

After the Forum, a Resource Fair was held, featuring several Mental Health service providers in Bergen County, where the Forum audience members could talk with professionals and get additional information.

For more information about Bergen LEADS, visit www.bergenleads.org. or email lalgrant@bergenvolunteer.org.

Caption: The Bergen LEADS Class of 2014 following their graduation project Public Forum “A Real Discussion on Mental Health”.  This year-long civic and leadership development program seeks candidates interested in learning more about Bergen County and exploring their own leadership styles.  Visit www.bergenleads.org for more information.

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