Brookdale Community College becomes stigma-free zone

Administrators at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, have declared the college campus to be a stigma-free zone.

According to a press release from the college, one in four adults experiences a diagnosable mental illness every year. One in seven adults experiences a diagnosable substance use disorder every year.

Many of these individuals do not seek help because of fear of shame or judgment from friends, family members and co-workers, according to the press release.

At the beginning of the spring semester, Brookdale administrators took the first steps toward eliminating the stigma with mental illness and substance use disorder. The goal is to create an environment that will encourage students to get the resources they need without judgment and to stop prejudice against mental illness, according to the press release.

Brookdale President Dr. David Stout was quoted in the press release saying, “I feel this is an important message to convey so everyone at the college, every student we have, feels completely supported and knows they can come to talk with us if they are experiencing any substance use or mental health crisis.”

The Brookdale Board of Trustees passed a resolution to create an environment in which students will feel free to seek treatment for the diseases of mental illness and/or substance use disorder without the fear of being stigmatized.

“I really appreciate this resolution,” said Howell municipal court public defender and Brookdale trustee Suzanne Brennan. “This is something that is important to me in the work that I do. I meet so many people who are struggling with so many different issues and they all deserve to be heard.

“There is still a lot of hesitancy and there is still a fear of ridicule with the association of getting help. I really appreciate Brookdale taking this step. I firmly believe every person matters, every person has a gift, and every person can make a difference.

“I think it is important students realize they are in a safe place and that if they need help to please come to us because there are lots of resources. This resolution shows Brookdale’s heart and our commitment to helping every student, every person, with their education and beyond,” Brennan said.

Wendy S. DePedro, president/CEO of the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County, said, “50% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life, and half of those people will develop conditions by the age of 14.

“In the last year, the increases of depression and anxiety have never been more prevalent, fueled by the sense of isolation and stress caused by the pandemic.

“The Mental Health Association of Monmouth County and our national affiliate Mental Health America commend President Stout and the leadership of Brookdale for becoming the first college to declare themselves a stigma-free zone, thereby supporting an environment where all faculty members, students and families are comfortable reaching out for help should they need it,” DePedro said.

Cathleen Goode, professor of counseling at Brookdale Community College, said, “As I observe the changes in the field of wellness in general, I am always encouraged by any movement to bring the struggles people have out of the darkness and into the light.

“I could not be more proud of the institution for this and look forward to participating as a member of the Counseling Department. Stigma-free acceptance makes us all better people,” she said.

Brookdale administrators hope to raise awareness of the diseases of mental illness and substance use disorder, promote the use of inclusive language and encourage those who are affected to seek services and feel supported, according to the press release.

“Psychological struggles do not make us weak; they make us human. Brookdale’s pledge to be stigma-free acknowledges this shared humanity. There is no psychological struggle too big or too small to warrant help. At Brookdale, we commit to helping and supporting one another through acceptance, connection, hope and healing,” said Sara Barnett Burrill, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Brookdale Community College.

Brookdale administrators are encouraging anyone who would like more information about the stigma-free initiative to contact Sara Burrill at sburrill@brookdalecc.edu