The Stigma Free Zone News - February 2020

The Stigma Free Zone News - February 2020

Volume XXXXlll | FEBRUARY 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."


By Cynthia Chazen

"I explained that I'd attended this horrible job [ ambulance call ] ... which had led to me being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that I didn't think I'd been given sufficient support by the ambulance service."

These brave words are from the pen of British EMT, and adopted son and staunch Stigma Free Zone Ambassador to the UK, Dan Farnworth. "Actually, I hadn't been given any support by the ambulance service. My manager sympathised with me, before saying, 'If you can't cope, then maybe this isn't the job for you."

Those words reflect the worst fears of people who deal with trauma and emergency every day.

Real, very human, fallible EMT/EMS workers, firefighters, police, nurses, doctors, and soldiers, (and hospital and social workers, psychiatrists, and even therapists), share Dan's experiences of daily immersion in some of the worst, most frightening, direct or shared experiences of fear, conflict, rage, hatred, confusion, mayhem, and death. These are tough jobs, and historically, were considered to be only for "tough men." And tough men and vulnerability have rarely mixed well.

Fear of being labeled "crazy," "weak," or worst of all, "unfit for duty," still silences this population of workers. Reaching out for mental health support or care has been eschewed due to fears that still exist: being forced to turn in one's medical license, gun or badge, being relegated to a desk, whispered about among peers, or simply being fired. This stigma harms us all, with doctor, police, and veteran suicide rates at the top of the charts, and the need to lure people into these crucially important jobs becoming increasingly difficult in a world where media and technology has opened people's eyes to the grueling experiences others face, in a way we have never seen or heard before. Dan's story relates gripping encounters mixed with hard truths about mental illness and recovery in the professions. He speaks so humbly, always with a global vision, of better supports for First Responders, everywhere.

We're so proud to have Dan associated with our initiative.

Thankfully, due to story tellers like Dan, society is catching up with the needs of all of our human services, medical, and emergency personnel, who experience real mental and physical harm due to their jobs, and need our immediate and stigma-free recognition and support. The reasons we need to care for the sturdy and giving souls called to service is shared in concerning yet thrilling, detail, on every page of Dan's book. It is out from Simon & Schuster UK and due for US release, but available today on Amazon.

Dan Farnworth first reached out to me through my account @TheMHEditor, on Twitter and a surprising friendship grew and quickly bore fruit. Dan came to NJ at the invitation of The Paramus SFZ, "Bridging The Pond" in August, 2018, to tell his mental health story at an event sponsored by CarePlus NJ and New Bridge Medical Center for NJ's First Responders; one of the first events in the state to address the mental health needs of those on the front lines. Dan was keen as a recently-appointed Winston Churchill Memorial Scholar to travel the globe and bring back "Best Practices in Mental Health" to the organization for inclusion in a report to the UK Parliament. The NJ Stigma Free Zones were prominently featured in the report.

Dan joined us again last summer at Bergen County's Crisis Intervention Team educational event "Unity in The Community," spearheaded by CIT Mental Health Coordinator, Amie Del Sordo. Open to all First Responders in the state, the event featured Dan urging NJ to bring awareness and appropriate mental health support and care to the people who insert themselves into the worst moments of stranger's lives, and often carry those encounters within their minds for years to follow. Another CIT event is planned for this summer, and those interested can contact Ms. Del Sordo for information on registering, exhibiting, or speaking.

Dan's story of serving as in the UK's Ambulance Service first captured the attention of Britain's Royal Family during the launch of their mental health charity, Heads Together. Dan was starting his organization, Our Blue Light, which brought the mental health issues of First Responders to the public's attention, and he was invited to speak at its launch in 2016. He is still serving in the Ambulance Service, being single dad to 4 great kids, and occasionally visiting us here in the States.

Thank you Dan, for your global service in bringing attention to this urgent and noble cause. The SFZ News of NJ wishes you Godspeed and continued good mental health as you continue your brave journey. And thanks for mentioning The SFZ of NJ in the book !


Asbury Park Press: Cops and Suicide: Departments in NJ,

The Nation Look to Break a Deadly Cycle

NJ 101.5: Retired Cop on Police Suicide, His Story

Morris Freeholders Step in to Save Program

for Severely Mentally Ill Residents

NorthJersey.Com: New Wellness Room at

Haworth School Provides Safe Space for Children

NJAMHAA: Register for Upcoming Conferences

NJ.Com: Murphy Vetoes Bill Allowing

Depression Screening in Public Schools

Insider NJ: Downey, Houghtaling & Vainieri Huttle

Bill to Expand Tuition Reimbursement Program

for Child Psychiatrists Clears Assembly Panel


A mother, a son, an unraveling mind —

and a mental health system that can’t keep up

By Abigail Jones

January 13, 2020

Excerpts From The Washington Post Magazine Story

The Dumsches could tell stories about Aaron’s exploits all day, but there are other tales, too, the kind his family would rather forget. Like the time he shoved a woman with a walker. Or the time he lay on the couch, watching the news coverage on 9/11 and laughing. “We’d lock our bedroom doors because we were afraid he’d come in and hurt us,” Anita says....

Over the past 20 years, Aaron has spiraled from a high school star and an academic all-American on the Arizona State University football team to a ward of the state of Maryland....

All the while, Anita has been at Aaron’s side, trying to care for her son while insulating her family — and the public — from his unpredictable behavior. As she puts it, “Protecting the mentally ill, you become mentally ill just trying to get it all together.”


SFZ News Archive 2016-2020