Healthier Somerset: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Susan Ferranti | NAMI Somerset
April 30, 2019

May is Mental Health Awareness month, a time to shine a light on mental illness and replace stigma with hope.

One in five adults experiences a mental illness each year. Those problems can contribute to the onset of more serious long-term conditions such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Approximately one-half of chronic mental illness begins by age 14. As mental health and substance abuse relate to Somerset County, in 2016 (the most recently available data), 12.5 percent of Somerset County residents reported a history of depression, an increase from 9.2 percent in 2012 (the prior reporting year).

Unfortunately, long delays — sometimes decades — often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help. It is critical to learn to recognize early symptoms of mental illness and talk with a doctor about any concerns. Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for successful management of a condition.

Mental Health conditions are not caused by personal weaknesses, lack of character, or a poor upbringing. They are medical conditions that can impact a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis.

READ: Healthier Somerset: Community Health Improvement Plan announced

The Somerset County 2019-2021 Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) identifies mental health and substance abuse as a priority health need in Somerset County.  The CHIP – developed by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Somerset (RWJUH), in collaboration with Healthier Somerset, a coalition convened by RWJUH Somerset to improve the health and well-being of all who live and work in Somerset County – provides a framework for the community to address its biggest health needs, which for Somerset County includes mental health.

Healthier Somerset formed a workgroup to address the community’s mental health needs through treatment, prevention, and health promotion activities. This workgroup is chaired by Kim Petro-Orlik from EmPoWER Somerset and Susan Ferranti from NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness). One such example to achieve that goal is the expansion of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). MHFA is an eight-hour course for adults that teaches how to recognize when someone is in emotional distress or having a mental health crisis and also how to approach that person in a way that is helpful and effective. MHFA also provides information about local mental health services and how to refer someone in crisis.

Several Youth MHFA training opportunities (for adults who interact with youth) are being offered, in both English and Spanish, at locations throughout the county over the next several months by EmPoWER Somerset through a federal grant. Both EmPoWER Somerset and NAMI are part of the over 50 community organizations who are members  of Healthier Somerset.

READ: Healthier Somerset: Somerset County ranked third healthiest in state

It is important for community members to know that there are multiple mental health resources available including EmPoWER, whose mission is to assist individuals and families in making positive lifestyle choices by promoting healthy, drug-free communities through education, collaboration and connections to resources; and NAMI, an organization that fights stigma, provides support, educates the public and advocates for equal care.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these warning signs, NAMI Somerset can help. Contact the NAMI Help-Line at 800-950-6264 or visit to learn more. You are not alone!

For more information on Healthier Somerset, please visit  For a complete list of MHFA trainings please visit Community Events at or contact Kim Petro-Orlik at 908-722-4900 or

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