Bergen New Bridge, county celebrate 10-year anniversary of Stigma-Free Paramus initiative

Eliminating the stigma associated with behavioral health treatment has been a major goal and initiative around the country since the pandemic brought a surge of mental health issues to the forefront.

Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, has been promoting such an understanding for much longer.

This week, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, the hospital raised a stigma-free flag as part of a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Stigma-Free Paramus initiative.

CEO Deb Visconi said promoting awareness is a first step to treatment.

“As a leading provider of mental health services, we know there is no health without mental health, which is why every day is about mental health awareness for us,” she said. “It is also the driving reason Bergen New Bridge became the first hospital to be declared a stigma-free zone and we were an early supporter of the Stigma-Free initiative.”

The efforts reach far beyond the hospital.

Mary Ann Uzzi, founder of the Stigma-Free Paramus initiative, said it has become part of the county’s vision.

“Ten years ago, I embarked on this grassroots initiative with the goal of eliminating the stigma around mental health issues so that people would seek treatment in a timely fashion and feel supported,” she said. “Stigma-Free has been adopted by all 70 towns in Bergen County and all 21 counties in New Jersey, and, today, we celebrate our 10-year partnership with the medical center and look forward to continuing to work together.”

Tom Sullivan, chair of the Bergen County board of commissioners, said bringing this issues to the forefront helps everyone.

“There is nothing wrong with saying you need help and that you need people to come and stand by you,” he said. “We are all together on this common goal of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health issues.”

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco agreed.

“In some cases, even today, people are challenged to talk about mental health because they are not sure how people are going to react,” he said. “We have to break apart the stigma and say it doesn’t matter what people think because everyone is entitled to get the treatment and the care that they deserve.”