Having a Healthy Conversation About Mental Health


Chloe Altschul, Staff Writer

This past Tuesday morning, the Bergen County Department of Health Services hosted the fifth annual County-Wide Stigma-Free Symposium, and the THS IMPACT Ambassadors attended.

All seventy Bergen County municipalities have become involved with their Stigma-Free initiative and the movement has spread across the state. The goal of this campaign is to eliminate the stigma, or the shame, associated with having a mental illness. Every year, one out of four American adults experience a diagnosable mental disorder, but only half seek treatment. Embarrassment and fear of judgment are obstacles that stand in their way of addressing the problem. The subject of mental health is often left in the shadows, but shedding light on this topic through education can promote more open-minded, compassionate conversation.

This year, the THS IMPACT Ambassadors were invited to the symposium at The Terrace at Biagio’s in Paramus. The acronym, IMPACT, stands for Initiate, Motivate, and Promote Acts of Care in Tenafly. One of our more recent projects was Semicolon Day, an event held on December 7th. The money we earned from selling semicolon stickers and holding a bake sale was donated to Care Plus NJ, a local mental health organization. Along with THS TV, we created an infomercial which served to raise awareness and explain the semicolon symbol. Using a semicolon to punctuate a sentence allows an author to not end the sentence, but to instead continue elaborating upon his or her thoughts. We use this symbol to encourage those struggling to make the choice to work towards improving their health instead of feeling like the only option is suicide.

Poster promoting Semicolon Day, a project that the IMPACT Ambassadors discussed at the symposium.

The posters our club placed around school sharing relevant mental health statistics caught the attention of Ms. Bassett, Assistant to the Superintendent for Special Services in Tenafly. She accompanied us at the symposium along with Ms. Cutrone, our club’s supervisor. My club members and I did not know how large the gathering would be before we arrived at the restaurant. We walked into a large banquet room, with lights tinted the campaign’s signature lime green. After a delicious buffet breakfast, we sat down at our reserved table and the symposium began.

Speakers representing the Bergen County Mental Health Board started that morning by expressing gratitude and pride for all that the initiative had achieved in the few years since it had been created. The board had invited representatives from nine Bergen County towns to present various efforts being taken to “stamp out stigma.” Throughout the course of the morning, we heard presentations ranging from a teen improv group to a passionate third grader’s message to Miss Bergen County’s “No Mind Left Behind” project. Kathryn Zheng (’20), the IMPACT club‘s treasurer, felt that “it was really great to hear different people, especially people our age, sharing stories of their own struggles with mental health conditions. Seeing people break the stigma actively and publicly was truly inspiring.”

Seeing people break the stigma actively and publicly was truly inspiring.

— Kathryn Zheng ('20)

One unique project, called “Flaunt It,” came from River Dell Middle School. Their students wrote about one characteristic of which they used to feel ashamed—whether it be freckles or glasses or learning disabilities—but now have decided to embrace. The writings were used to caption photographs that represented their “flaunt” and were hung on a bulletin board for the whole school to admire. Especially at the middle school age, kids can feel self-conscious as they attempt to figure out who they are. Though the students may have initially felt vulnerable revealing a personal struggle, seeing a wall of everyone’s photographs together reassured them that they were not alone; every one of their peers had their insecurities.

From left to right: Ms. Bassett, Rachel Schoeman (’19), Chloe Altschul (’19), Kathryn Zheng (’20), Rosie Kang (’20), Ms. Cutrone at the Stigma-Free Symposium

It was very meaningful to sit in a room with people of all ages, all supporting the same message. IMPACT Club’s PR Chair, Rosie Kang (’20) enjoyed hearing about the solutions that were presented, as “it really motivated us to keep striving to keep striving towards a mentally healthy environment at our school.” Fortunately, we are starting to break down the negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness that once dominated daily life and media and ostracized millions of suffering people. I felt proud to represent Tenafly that day and, along with the IMPACT Club, will continue to make spreading awareness of mental health a priority.

If you or anyone you know needs someone to talk to, contact the Guidance Department, CarePlus NJ mental health clinic, or any IMPACT Club officer.