Posted Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Honor Residents and Students for Efforts on Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

The Morris County Board of Freeholders this week recognized the third anniversary of the county’s Stigma-Free Initiative and urged all of the county’s 39 towns, plus school districts, businesses, law enforcement, and religious and nonprofit organizations to join the countywide effort to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.

Freeholders Celebrate Third Anniversary of Morris County's Stigma-Free Initiative

Freeholder Director Doug Cabana talks with County College of Morris students Marco Mirlas, Raven Resch and Alexa Wyszkowski.

Freeholders Celebrate Third Anniversary of Morris County's Stigma-Free Initiative

Morris County Sheriff’s Officer Erica Valvano, the initiative behind Hope One, poses with Freeholders and her family and the Morris County Sheriff Jim Gannon.

Freeholders Celebrate Third Anniversary of Morris County's Stigma-Free Initiative

Freeholders pose with Morris County Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker and Stigma-Free Initiative Leader Wendy Sefcik of Montville.

On April 27, 2016, the freeholders unanimously passed a resolution  designating Morris County as a Stigma-Free community. It noted that one in four county residents had experienced mental illness, including substance use, and that the stigma associated with these disorders was identified as the primary reason individuals fail to seek the help they need to recover.

“Today, we are re-emphasizing our dedication to raising awareness of these illnesses by creating an environment where affected individuals are supported in their efforts to achieve wellness and recovery,’’ Freeholder Director Doug Cabana said on Wednesday.

“We understood back in 2016 that Stigma-Free had to be more than just a slogan, that it had to become a fabric of our county community to have any real meaning,’’ said Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo. Today, I can tell you that we have made great progress … that we are now part of a 35-town Stigma-Free coalition, and growing.’’ (view video here.)

Kinnelon Borough last week became the 35th town in the county to join the initiative.

To mark the third anniversary of the passage of the county’s Stigma-Free resolution, the freeholders on Wednesday (April 24) honored several residents who have shown leadership in this countywide Stigma-Free effort.

Honored were Montville resident Wendy Sefcik, Morris County Sheriff’s Cpl. Erica Valvano, and County College of Morris students Alexa Wyszkowski of Rockaway, Raven Resch of Belvidere, and Marco Mirlas of Roxbury.

Wendy Sefcik: As the mother of a young man who struggled with depression, she has been extraordinarily courageous and generous to share her family’s story of teen depression and suicide, and the lessons learned that inspires hope for recovery in a stigma free environment. View the video here.

Erica Valvano: She has been a driving force behind Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s Hope One mobile substance use recovery and resource initiative, working closely with persons impacted by the heroin and opioid epidemic, and sharing lessons learned to inspire hope for recovery in a Stigma-Free environment. View the video here.

Alexa Wyszkowski, Raven Resch, and Marco Mirlas: They collaborated on the “Despite My Diagnosis” series about students in the process of recovery that has run in the County College of Morris newspaper, the Youngtown Edition, helping to create a Stigma-Free culture on the campus of the college community. View the video here.

“We congratulate these honorees for their efforts to help remove the personal and institutional stigma long associated with mental illness and addiction, turning the discussion toward helping people without judgment, just as we would when someone with another chronic illness asks for help,’’ said Morris County Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker.

“Morris County’s stigma-free campaign has had a profound impact on public attitudes about people who have substance use and mental health disorders. These no longer are viewed as character flaws but as struggles that human beings are having that deserve compassion and support,” said Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon.

Learn more about the countywide Stigma Free Initiative and take the Stigma-Free pledge at https://morriscountystigmafree.org/

Learn more about the Sheriff’s Hope One program at https://sheriff.morriscountynj.gov/community/hope-one/

Morris County Stigma Free logo