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Education is Key

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” —Norman Vincent Peale

by Jo Valenti, BSN, RN, Cumberland County Mental Health and Addictions Board

How can we overcome long-standing misconceptions about mental illness? One way is through education. Becoming informed about any subject takes effort but educating ourselves about mental illness is the first step in erasing stigma. Understanding mental illness and how to get effective treatment leads to full and satisfying lives and reduces negative thinking. In the case of mental illness, the shame and embarrassment that people attach to it are barriers to getting help. It traps people in their problems and prevents a return to mental health.

Where is reliable information about mental illness? The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an excellent resource. For information on getting involved with local NAMI, contact Beena Bhatcar at NAMI also now has a local Facebook page:

There is also accurate information on the CDC website and the Mayo Clinic website

People affected by mental illness and their families can overcome reluctance to seek help through education. Once they know that effective treatments are available, they finally have hope. But it is also up to the rest of us to change our thinking about mental illness. We all need to remove our own prejudices and de-stigmatize mental illness.

Many celebrities have been open about their struggles with mental illness; it’s gone a long way in helping to reduce stigma. Their stories also prove that, with proper treatment, those with mental illness can lead successful lives. For example, Glenn Close was diagnosed with depression for the first time at the age of 61. She has been quoted as saying, “The worst thing that a human can endure is to be so marginalized, to be left out, to not have connection, and those with mental illness are the people that fall through the cracks. And stigma is the reason. It’s okay to talk about mental illness, and I like to.” (from

By mirroring Ms. Close’s attitude, we can all promote the change in our world from stigmatized to stigma-free. Open discussion goes a long way toward creating a stigma-free society. If you are ever in a position to steer conversation away from mental illness stigma, speak up in a positive way. A person with mental illness can get the help they need to be a productive member of the community. When that happens, all of us benefit.

The Cumberland County Mental Health and Addictions Board promotes stigma-free initiatives through educational efforts like this column. The Board provides leadership and guidance to Cumberland County in the development, maintenance and improvement of mental health and addiction services by planning, implementing, and monitoring such services.

The Board is looking for dedicated members. If you or someone you know is interested, send a letter of interest and resume by e-mail to Melissa Niles, or by mail, Cumberland County Human Services, 70 W. Broad St., Bridgeton, New Jersey 08302.

Minding Your Mind