Native Hazlet resident speaks to students about mental health

HAZLET Promoting early awareness pertaining to psychological care and resources, Raritan High School alumni Mikaela Grande spoke with students about mental health.

Grande is the walk coordinator for the non-profit NAMI NJ and is currently a senior majoring in psychology at Rutgers University, according to Grande.

“NAMI NJ is a non-profit organization that provides free programs of support, education and advocacy for those affected by mental health disorders and their family members. We are dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness,” Grande said.

Informing students about the resources and programs that NAMI NJ provides, Grande spoke during two classes taught by Melissa Gardner, who teaches psychology and social studies, on Oct. 27, at Raritan High School, located at 419 Middle Road.

Grande was Gardner’s former student who encouraged her to join the organization.

“My main goal is that I want the students to know that they are not alone. Many feel they have to hold in everything and this is not the case. One in five individuals are impacted by mental health disorders to an extent. Since so many are affected, there is no reason why we cannot support one another.”

Since many of the students in Gardner’s class were seniors, Grande talked about the importance of knowing about the mental health resources colleges provide.

“College is stressful, I am not going to stand here and lie to you guys, it’s a lot. It’s not like what you see in the movies, I wish is was like that but it’s not,” Grande said. “A lot of times stress in college can trigger some of these mental health disorders. So it is important to be able to recognize that and go get help, because if you nip it in the bud it is more manageable.”

After starting to work for NAMI NJ during her junior year of college Grande said that her primary role is to ensure the organization’s annual walk brings in enough funds to keep its programs running.

This year, the organization’s annual walk is called “You are Not Alone” and is going to be held on May 19, 2018, at the Boardwalk at Seaside Park in Ocean County, according to Grande.

Grande also founded her own program called NAMI NJ High School Outreach Program that serves  a two fold purpose that involves community engagement and mental health awareness, according to Grande.

“We raise awareness at our organization and we also fight stigma. Stigma is basically a pre-thought idea about a group, it’s generally negative and it’s generally not a good thing. So a lot of people have difficulties coming forward with their mental health disorder, because this stigma against it and the backlash that they may receive from family members, peers, [and] society,” Grande said.

NAM NJ provides various programs that include: NAMI Family-to-Family; NAMI Walks New Jersey; NAMI Connection; NAMI In Our Own Voice; NAMI Basics; NAMI Smarts for Advocacy; NAMI Homefront.

The NAMI Family-to-Family and Basics are programs that work with caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses to provide them with coping strategies and support, according to Grande.

Grande said that NAMI Connection program is for adults who have a mental health disorder and provides them the space to discuss their disorder, their coping mechanisms, and share with other people to hopefully help other people.

NAMI In Our Own Voice program trains individuals who have a mental health disorder to go in and speak about their disorder and speak about it in a eloquent way in order to be able to convey to people their story, according to Grande.

The NAMI Smarts for Advocacy program teaches individuals how to advocate for people with mental disorders.

NAMI Homefront is a program that works with veterans and their families.

Grande said, “There is a long wait list for veterans to receive treatment and a lot of them are coming home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety… So this program really does an amazing job of working with those veterans and families in getting them the help that they need and that they do deserve because they are giving up everything for us.”

The organization also has multi-cultural programs that included: Samhaj which is for people who are of South Asian descent, Camhop-New Jersey which is for people who are Chinese-American, AACT-Now is for people who are African-American, and NAMI NJ en Espanol is for people who are Hispanic, according to Grande.

“Not everyone experiences life the same way, especially in this day and age your cultural and racial background kind of effects how you experience what these programs do is that it cultivates a understanding community,” Grande said.

The organization also hosts an annual conference where caregivers, people with mental illnesses, family members, peers, healthcare providers, and volunteers come to learn about different forms of research and technology, according to Grande.

This year, the conference’s keynote speaker is author AJ Mendez Brooks and going to be on Dec. 2, at the Ramada Plaza Conference Center, in Monroe, located at 390 Forsgate Drive, according to Grande.

For more information about NAMI NJ visit or call 732-940-0991.

Contact Vashti Harris at