PARAMUS, N.J. – What began as a class project by Bergen Community College student Alexandra Frontin, developed into an opportunity for East Rutherford to become the latest Bergen County municipality to join the “Stigma-Free” mental health awareness initiative. The World Health Organization ranks mental health disorders as the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, affecting more than 61.5 million Americans each year.
Stigma-Free municipalities commit to supporting residents with mental health resources while encouraging them to seek help without judgment or shame.
For Frontin, a health sciences major, her interest in making East Rutherford Stigma-Free stemmed from a desire to support her fellow students.
“I was hoping to get people to realize it’s OK to talk about mental health,” she said.
After watching neighboring towns Lyndhurst and Rutherford make the Stigma-Free pledge, Frontin submitted her plans to professor Melissa Salort, who asks students to complete a community health project as part of her Community Health course.
“When Alexandra explained her interest in mental health awareness, I immediately thought of the great work done by the Stigma-Free Initiative and suggested she look into it,” Salort said. “To have the opportunity to take an assignment that begins in the classroom and make lasting change in the community is exactly what the Community Health course is about – taking education and purposing it for the greater good.”
From there, Frontin devised a strategy – including contacting East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella. In order for the borough to become Stigma-Free, the governing body would need to approve a resolution. They passed the measure this spring.
The daughter of two emergency medical technicians, Frontin, who plans to study surgical technology at the College once she completes general education requirements, remains eager to take the next step – working with borough officials to develop mechanisms for promoting the Stigma-Free pledge and the resources available to residents.
Paramus, home to the College’s main campus, became the county’s first Stigma-Free zone in 2013. Since then, governing bodies from more than 40 municipalities have passed resolutions pledging their cooperation in the initiative. County officials have done the same. The initiative began in Hoboken six years ago.
Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls 15,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.
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