Mental health outreach project kicks off

Aim is to destigmatize mental illness and provide information

Meetings will be held through August at public libraries throughout North Bergen, Weehawken, West New York, and Union City.
Meetings will be held through August at public libraries throughout North Bergen, Weehawken, West New York, and Union City.

North Hudson Partnership, composed of several state-funded community nonprofits in northern Hudson County, kicked off its latest project on June 5, dubbed “Mental Health Meet and Greets.” All summer, meetings will be held in North Bergen, Weehawken, Union City, and West New York.

At the first meeting, residents turned out for one-on-one and group discussions with mental health professionals who volunteer their time to work alongside the county’s social service departments. The aim is to destigmatize mental health services by creating a safe space where North Hudson communities can learn how they can get help.

According to organizers, there is overwhelming evidence that there is a disparity in mental health treatment for North Hudson residents who are uninsured, under-insured, and Spanish speaking.

State-funded nonprofits and municipal social service agencies are pooling resources so that those who are suffering can find practitioners who may be able to help them.

Informal, bilingual conversations net the best outcomes, according to the organizers. Residents can find out more about signs and symptoms of mental illness, what to look for in a mental health professional when attempting to find suitable treatment, how to navigate local healthcare and social service options if you have limited or no insurance, various forms of therapy, myths surrounding mental health practitioners, mental illnesses, those who experience them, and other mental health issues.

Medical pros and officials weigh in

Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, who works with the Hudson County Office of Consumer Protection, stopped by with literature detailing how to find the right doctor.

Jeffry Gutierez, a local licensed social worker, said that he hopes the stigma-free meetings will result in unheard voices being heard. He said this could be crucial in securing adequate services for everyone.

“We have a lot of people in North Hudson who can’t afford private insurance, or a sliding pay scale,” Gutierez said. “There is a need for more therapists in this community. Most of this community’s population is on Medicaid, but many therapists only accept private insurance. There’s an ongoing stigma against mental illness. We’re not able to reach everyone. I’m inviting my colleagues, and we’re trying to talk to as many people as possible.”

There is a broad context in which treatment for mental illness is inaccessible for millions of people in the United States, and likely thousands in North Hudson. Providing a place of solidarity for those in need will help establish a critical public dialogue, according to Dr. Troy Mack, director of Weehawken’s Human Services.

“We’re supposed to take care of each other, we’re neighbors,” he said. “If we’re not taking care of each other as neighbors, I don’t see what the point would be. This will help us get the word out that it’s not a shameful act to ask for help from your neighbor, your loved one, or those in your community. This will help us destroy that notion of shame, and destroy that notion of stigma.”

The meetings will continue through August, on Wednesdays from 6:30-8 p.m. On the first Wednesday of every month, meetings will be held at North Bergen’s public library, main branch. The second Wednesdays will meet in West New York’s public library. The third Wednesdays will meet at Weehawken’s public library, and the fourth Wednesdays will meet in the Summit Branch of Union City’s public library.

These events were made possible by the North Hudson Partnership, Hackensack Meridian Health Palisades Medical Center, Urban League of Hudson County, Weehawken Human Services, North Bergen Health Department, and the public library systems in North Hudson.

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