Each October, Mental Illness Awareness Week (designated as the first week in October by the U.S. Congress back in 1990) brings attention to and helps educate citizens on the issue of mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 46.6 million adults aged 18 or older who live in the United States have some form of mental illness. This figure represents 18.9 percent of all U.S adults. The prevalence of any mental illness was highest among the adults reporting two or more races (26.8 percent) and 16.2 percent for adults reporting as Non-Hispanic Black/African American.

On October 8, members of the Burlington County Partnership for Youth Success (BCPYS), a county-wide juvenile delinquency prevention planning and implementation effort funded by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and led by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, presented a panel discussion on mental health among Burlington youth, with a special focus on the mental health needs of the African American community. The event, hosted by Marchelle Coleman, a 1991 Chimeras graduate who currently serves as as a Program Administrator for Willingboro Public Schools, focused on a number of mental health challenges and obstacles to care  including the cultural barriers that exist for African American youth, over-diagnosis and the inter-generational stigmas regarding mental health, as well as the connection between mental health and incarceration. The panel also discussed the importance of education and  prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and shared resources that are available for parents and youth. Panelists included: Dumar Burgess, Principal, Hawthorne Elementary School; Lorraine Howard, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Rutgers University; Deborah Johnson, Community Development Coordinator, Burlington County Tennis Association; Kyle Morris, School Social Worker, Willingboro Public Schools; Gary Nelson, Licensed Professional Counselor, Willingboro High School; Latonya Oliver, Assistant Director, South Jersey Behavioral Health Resources; Shelby Parris, Author and Mental Health Advocate; and Sen. Troy Singleton of the Seventh Legislative District.

As the technical partner of BCPYS, WRI played an important role in developing the program and providing background research, and suggestions for another forum are being discussed in other municipalities. Additional resources can be found here.