The Burlington County Commissioners’ efforts to make Burlington County a stigma-free county is picking up more support.
The Burlington County Association of School Administrators announced their organization’s support for the stigma-free initiative, saying it will encourage local boards of education across the county to adopt a uniform resolution establishing their school districts as stigma-free zones for mental health awareness, according to information provided on March 14.
The Burlington County Commissioners adopted a similar resolution designating Burlington County a stigma-free county last September as a way to assist those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder by increasing awareness and combating misconceptions about them, according to the statement. The resolution makes clear that the county recognizes the importance of education and awareness and that the commissioners support local resources that are available to treat the diseases of mental illness and substance use disorders.
In addition to passing the resolution, the commissioners created a Stigma-Free Task Force to develop actions Burlington County and other local governments can consider taking to better engage and educate residents.
Burlington County Commissioner Felicia Hopson and New Jersey Senator Troy Singleton applauded the association’s support for ending stigma, describing it as “a major boost” that would encourage others to follow suit, according to the statement.
“Our board spoke loud and clear last fall when we started our county’s stigma-free initiative, and we promised to work together with residents and other stakeholders to break down the barriers that prevent those suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders from getting the help they require,” Hopson, who is the board’s liaison for Human Services, said in the statement. “We also called on our county’s towns, nonprofits, businesses and other entities to join the initiative and help magnify the message. We’re thrilled the Burlington County Association of School Administrators has stepped up to do so. No person struggling with mental illness or substance use disorders should feel alone, and the Association’s actions will help our schools and their students, teachers and staff feel supported and prepared to respond to all mental health challenges.”
“Ending the stigma around metal health conditions and substance abuse is critical so that those who need the help, seek it out,” Singleton said in the statement. “I applaud the Burlington County School Administrators for joining with our county leaders in ensuring that our schools are stigma-free and safe spaces for our children.”
Stigma is a problem with many health conditions but has been identified as being particularly troublesome with mental illnesses and substance use disorders. These conditions are often misunderstood and people suffering from them frequently report feeling shame or blame for their conditions, according to the statement. This kind of social stigma is a primary reason why many individuals fail to seek treatment.
The Stigma-Free resolution and Task Force are two of several actions the commissioners have taken to improve residents’ access to drug treatment and other critical services.
The commissioners expanded addictions services in the county by launching a Recovery Center in the Burlington County Human Services Building in Westampton. The center serves as a “one-stop” destination where individuals can obtain peer support and information about treatment programs, recovery support services and community resources, according to the statement. The center also helps organize wellness activities and classes, and hosts recovery groups like Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous.
The county also launched a Hope One Mobile Outreach Unit that travels to various locations in the county to help link residents with recovery specialists and treatment facilities and to train people on how to administer overdose antidote. The unit is run by the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department, the Burlington County Human Services and the Burlington County Health Department, along with staff from Virtua, Maryville and the Deborah Heart and Lung Center.