Volume XXXXVl | APRIL 2020


Bringing The Mental Health Conversation to NJ

We report on an initiative of volunteers, nonprofits, schools, libraries, hospitals, First Responders & houses of worship working independently or with local government to free NJ from the stigma of mental illness. Anyone can form a SFZ Task Force, no permission required. Just pledge to "do something about mental illness."


An Exclusive Interview With CEO Don Parker

By Cynthia Chazen

Don Parker is an upbeat, friendly guy, so knowing I was planning to devote this month to only good news, he was the perfect person to interview. I wasn’t surprised at the positive energy he projected over the phone. NJ’s behavioral healthcare workers are being pressed as hard by the unprecedented events surrounding Covid-19 as other medical professionals, but at Carrier, Don says, they are thankfully keeping ahead of the pandemic.

“Knock wood, we’ve had very little Covid at Carrier,” he said.

In 2013, Don became CEO and President of The Carrier Clinic, a provider in Belle Mead offering mental health and addiction treatment. It has been part of Hackensack Meridian Health’s 16-hospital system since the merger was completed last year. HMH’s first urgent care center for behavioral health care also opened in 2019, in Neptune. Lessening the stigma connected to seeking treatment is firmly rooted in HMH’s mission statement for the new center. Their $25 million planned investment has focused on upgrading the Carrier Clinic facility. The first $10 million went towards campus renovations and building a new sewer plant. The remaining $15 million is slated for a new patient wing addition to the hospital.

Behavioral healthcare is currently being stressed in the same way as hospitals and nursing homes. Don related that Carrier has benefited from being part of a larger system. They have not struggled for supplies such as testing for workers, masks, and gloves. I asked Don if there’s been a recent uptick requesting mental health services due to Covid-19. “Need has increased 10%,” he said. He also expects demand to rise steadily, over the next two years. “About 10 days after the pandemic hit, the world of behavioral health began to understand what quarantine would mean,“ he said. “All of these distancing measures are exacerbating mental illness.”

He noted, based on history, a future rise in demand of 30% would not be unexpected.

What is worrying Don most now, is the overall lack of medical staff, worldwide. NJ has suffered from a dearth of psychiatrists, although not to the extent seen in more rural areas. Still, medical students have eschewed psychiatry for years, due to stigma and lower insurance reimbursements compared to other medical specialties. There are currently not enough prescribers to go around. “We need a national stockpile of mental health professionals,” he said, only half-jokingly.

Happily, complicated federal restrictions on training new doctors have recently been lifted. The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine is now operating in partnership with Seton Hall University. Seton Hall University currently has 200 psychiatry students enrolled, according to Don. He is excited about the new programs in child and adolescent psychiatry and dual-diagnosis. “It still takes 8 years to train a new psychiatrist, though,” he pointed out. “The need for trained professionals will always be paramount.”

Telepsychiatry is also undergoing a widespread trial by fire in NJ behavioral health, driven by the pandemic. It will surely change the way care is offered. “We’ve experienced a quadrupling of telepsych visits to patients in the last month at HMH sites and Carrier,” Don confirmed. Although he feels seeing a patient virtually cannot replace the value of live interaction, “It has its place, especially now,” he said. HMH is also looking at new, exciting technologies like facial recognition software, and voice analysis, that also promise to change how mental healthcare is delivered going forward.

Lastly, we discussed stigma. “I really hope the small reductions we’ve seen so far keep growing,” he said. He said people seem more open to seeking treatment than in the past, and more amenable to talking openly about their mental health. If anyone is worried about their mental health now, Don suggests seeking out a qualified behavioral health organization, instead of a busy ER, and acting well before they feel they’ve reached a crisis point.

“The worst thing anyone can do is wait,” he said.

All of our mental health providers are to be thanked for the irreplaceable and invaluable services they provide, every day. Let’s not forget to reach out to thank all of our professionals, and share optimism, and hope. Like Don told me, “I have hope. You’ve gotta have hope, it’s like food for the soul.”

Visit Carrier Clinic Website




?Watch the little

darlings take a dip.

G''s good for your mental health!

We've noted snack time is 11:30 p.m., EST


NorthJersey.Com: Assistance Dog Visits Children at Home

Good News Network: NJ Teens

Take Matters into Their Own Hands to Help

News 10 Philly:Teachers at NJ

School Deliver Food to Students in Need

Daily Beast: If You Have Anxiety or Depression

But Feel Better During Coronavirus, You're Not Alone?

MHTTC: Tools for Educators During a Public Health Crisis

Psych Hub: Covid-19 Mental Health Resource Hub

Thomas.Net: 5 Virtual Learning

Platforms To Enhance Your Skills at Home

NAMI Action Center: Take a Minute to Take Action


By Cynthia Chazen

You can’t turn on social media these days without seeing someone's proud attempt at banana bread. This makes sense. It's easy to bake, uses only a few ingredients and it soothes the guilt felt over those 3 bunches you panic-bought weeks ago, which now lie black and lifeless on your kitchen counter. (Freeze them in a plastic bag for future use). So, why not make some?

The best part is, you will succeed at banana bread, even when everything else in your life feels like it's going rapidly down the toilet. My recipe is easy, and the results are gorgeous. Plus, BB makes the perfect gift if you want to express your gratitude, and drop it off, wrapped first in plastic, and then taped into a brown paper shopping bag layer, tied up with twine. It looks comfy and rustic, and gives both you and the receiver the impression that you worked much harder, and are far more talented, than you actually are. Yeah, baby. ?? No wonder it's my go-to. Because this clearly isn’t a time for waste or guilt, and to some sanity-saving extent, truth. Because we're all just doing the best we can, under very strange and trying circumstances. Right? So pull out your pans and measuring cups and just give it a go. Don't forget to stretch and breathe deep first.

Baking is the perfect therapy. If you are more the improvisational type, you are better off cooking. Go for soups, omelettes, or stir-frys: they are universally forgiving recipes. I don’t know of any stir-frys that call for bananas, but that is what the internet is for. Just remember, baking is a science, and it requires following the rules. It can be comforting to just to follow directions during uncertain times. After all, if you can't trust Betty Crocker, whom can you trust? Here's my recipe.


1 cup granulated sugar

2 overripe bananas, mashed with a fork

1 stick butter

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional).

To prep, chop nuts and toast over medium heat in a dry frying pan, stirring constantly for a few minutes until you can smell a pleasant, toasted smell.

For topping: 4 tablespoons granulated or demerara sugar (aka Sugar in The Raw),

mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a small ramekin or cup, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, melt the butter in mixing bowl in the microwave until soft or melted, and grease a loaf pan. Combine the first six ingredients in a mixing bowl, and blend well. Stir in remaining ingredients only until just mixed. Pour into greased loaf pan. Sprinkle sugar topping evenly over top of batter. Bake on middle rack for 60 minutes. Test middle with a toothpick, if wet batter appears on toothpick, add 5 minutes cooking time, then repeat test. Let cool for 5 minutes before releasing loaf onto a plate. Eat warm with butter. Send The SFZ News a pic of your results!




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singing the theme from Dear Evan Hanson.

You Will Be Found.