According to statistics published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 933,674 adults in New Jersey suffered from mental illness between 2011 and 2015, with approximately 250,000 experiencing severe and potentially life-threatening conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. While these numbers reflect reported cases, millions of others have suffered — and continue to suffer — from undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.
“While there have been some strides in recent years with respect to providing people in New Jersey with mental health resources, supports and programs, there is still a tremendous amount of work ahead,” commented La’Tesha Sampson, a licensed clinical social worker, author, trainer, and CEO of Erase the Divide, a New Jersey-based non-profit organization that works to eradicate the digital divide in communities of color. “New Jersey ranks thirty-third in the nation for access to mental health care, which is simply unacceptable. We need to do much better.”
Here is a list of some of the mental health resources available in New Jersey, and which can make a life-changing and potentially life-saving difference to those in need:
Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS)
DMHAS oversees New Jersey’s system of community-based behavioral health agencies for adults. These agencies provide individuals with a wide range of services and supports, including emergency screening, substance abuse prevention and early intervention, outpatient (and intensive outpatient) mental health and addictions services, and case management. They also facilitate employment, education and supportive housing.
DHMAS was created in 2011 through the merger of New Jersey’s Division of Mental Health Services and Division of Addiction Services. This development reflected the fact that mental health disorders and substance abuse — both of which are diseases — are often strongly integrated and inter-related.
New Jersey Hopeline
Individuals who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and emotions can contact the New Jersey Hopeline. Trained specialists are available 24/7 to provide confidential counseling, as well as recommendations to additional resources. Those who prefer to type rather than talk can also launch an anonymous online chat session.
“In 2019, there were 8.7 deaths by suicide in New Jersey per 100,000 residents, which was a 16 percept spike compared to 2018,” commented La’Tesha Sampson, who holds a Bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University, a Master’s of Public Administration degree from Metropolitan College of New York, a Master’s of Social Work degree from Kean University, and a PhD in Christian Counseling from Northwestern Theological Seminary.
“Research and insights from survivors who have overcome thoughts of self-harm, and counselors who have helped them, confirms that suicide is preventable. In most cases, individuals with suicidal tendencies desperately want to live, but are in a tremendous amount of pain because they cannot see alternatives to their current situation, or a way to overcome their challenges and obstacles. The New Jersey Hopeline, and other members of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, play an absolutely critical role.”
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) New Jersey
Founded in 1985, NAMI New Jersey is a non-profit organization that serves individuals and families affected by mental illness through support, advocacy, education, and public awareness programs. Local NAMI New Jersey affiliates are based in counties throughout the state.
One of the most important initiatives led by NAMI New Jersey is the NAMI NJ Law Enforcement Education Program, which works to ensure that law enforcement officers and recruits receive mental illness education, and fosters effective cooperation and communication among county criminal justice and mental health systems across the state. Now more than ever, it is vital to replace misunderstandings, myths and in some cases outright misinformation regarding mental illness and treatment, with clarity, truth and compassion.
NJ Mental Health Cares
NJ Mental Health Cares, which is a service of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, provides mental health information and referral services for people throughout the state. The organization’s staff of behavioral care specialists provide confidential counseling, advocacy, case management, and assistance with respect to housing, employment, legal advice, rehabilitation, and more. Individuals can also conduct a free and confidential online screening for issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD, bipolar disorder and more, after which they will receive customized feedback and a list of local support services (based on the zip code they entered).
“For many people dealing with mental health issues and who want to get help, the biggest and most difficult question they have is ‘how do I get started?’” commented La’Tesha Sampson who has partnered, sponsored and assisted numerous non-profit initiatives worldwide, and awards college and trade school scholarships to New Jersey high school students each year. “NJ Mental Health Cares is an ideal starting point. Individuals who call are not asked for any personally identifying information, and are empowered to talk openly about their challenges and concerns. However, it is important to note that NJ Mental Health Cares does not provide crisis intervention. Individuals who are contemplating self-harm, or harming another, should call 911, 211, or the New Jersey Hopeline.”
The Final Word
So many people of all ages — from children to seniors — struggle with mental illness in silence, because they are afraid of reaching out for help, or because they do not know where to turn.
The good news is that there are several good mental health resources available in New Jersey, including many free and low-cost options. Hopefully in the future there will be even more, because this is a pervasive epidemic that affects everyone, regardless of age, gender, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or anything else.