The Stigma Free Zone News - October 2020

The Stigma Free Zone News - October 2020


Bringing the Mental Health Conversation to New Jersey

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


This issue, focusing on the mental health of seniors, is dedicated to my wonderful friend, and father-in-law, Bernie Chazen.

Bernie, lover of politics, kosher deli (seen here at his favorite hang-out, The Kosher Nosh in Glen Rock), and perennial enthusiast and holder of babies, died in The Actor's Home in Englewood, in April, from Covid-19.

To date, more than 40% of NJ's deaths from the pandemic have occurred in our care homes.


By Cynthia Chazen

I was pleasantly surprised to hear from 2 leaders in Englewood, NJ, that area elders seem to be weathering the pandemic well- if they remain connected. I suspect this has to do with geography, a plethora of available services, and the concentrated efforts of leaders in senior care like Janet Sharma and Scott Reddin.

Janet Sharma is the Coordinator of Age-Friendly Englewood: a community initiative established in 2016 to help residents age in place. It's funded by The Taub Foundation, which has long been dedicated to ensuring senior health in NJ.

At the pandemic's start, Sharma met with area organizations and religious groups and they made a collective pledge to focus on connecting seniors via technology, general food assistance, and outreach to isolated elders in the area.

AFE established a Friendly Caller Program and asked seniors if they would like to be contacted via phone. Postcards went out to about 11,000 local households. Additionally, 300 area adults were directly offered the service. "Very few [10-12] seniors self-identified as lonely," she told The SFZ News, "We thought there would be more, but in Englewood we think seniors are pretty well-connected." Sharma's take is city seniors are linked in via houses of worship, and close-knit neighbors. "If they aren't connected, it's a problem," she said, adding, "It takes effort to stay engaged." For those who asked, the on-going calls are still being provided.

The City of Englewood, as well as most towns in Bergen County, boasts a wide array of senior programs. Englewood provides daily wellness checks through the Fire Department and Meals on Wheels, free and low-cost transportation services are available, along with reliable bus service and Uber. The Health Department is an active member of the Stigma-Free initiative. The local Kaplen JCC on The Palisades will loan pre-loaded Ipads to any area senior who asks, and the many busy Senior Centers in northeast NJ are staffed with qualified and caring specialists.

But with centers now mostly closed and offering only a small number of in-person classes, an extra effort to reach out is required. That's exactly what Scott Reddin, Director of SESCIL (SEast Senior Center in Englewood), has undertaken. Scott told me he has been regularly calling his 200 clients since the Center closed in March.

"Physically and mentally they seem to be doing pretty well," he told me. "They are adapting, attending Zoom knitting classes and the like." But the oldest group, aged 85+, " A small group, too proud to say they might be experiencing mental health issues," who have not wanted to embrace technology, worryingly remain on his radar. Still, overall, Scott sees the senior population doing better than expected.

However, he did add, "I have a feeling the mental health situation is going to worsen ahead. When the weather gets bad, I foresee an uptick in depression." He'll be on it, he assured me."Just because you have a [Stigma Free} road sign in town, if you are ignoring people who need help, that remains just a start,' he said with conviction.

Scott asked me for pointers on better identifying and drawing out depressed seniors, or those at risk for suicide, and was very open to discussing mental health issues in general, as was Ms. Sharma. Seniors living in this densely-populated, well-connected, and well-served city are in good hands, thanks to these kind professionals. Thank you both, for your dedication to this important population!

NJ health organizations, local government, and faith organizations across the state need to be joining the fight - right now - to keep our seniors connected and safe at home, until in-person interactions can be restarted, particularly in more rural areas.

The City of Englewood is providing a shining example of how that can be achieved.

Age-Friendly Englewood is proud to announce publication of their "At Your Service" Guide for Englewood Seniors. The directory includes resources specific to Englewood as well as many pertinent to Bergen County and NJ. Information is also provided about such national programs as Medicare and Social Security. 

Click for Directory


Interview By Cynthia Chazen

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D), Hunterdon, spoke to The SFZ News on why he chose to sponsor NJ A5314 to study social isolation occurring in certain population groups, including seniors and persons with mental illness. The bill was signed by Governor Murphy in January 2020.

It turns out, he was concerned by the social isolation confronting his mom, 87, who was struggling to remain in independent living. Zwicker commented, "Social isolation is a public health concern, leading to negative health outcomes and premature death." Ultimately, his outgoing mom decided moving to a care home was her best option, where she is now living safely and well. But Zwicker remains passionate about the issue. We had a lengthy exchange about the pandemic, and how it may be negatively impacting this part of the population. He worries.

I asked him, can Government really do anything to help seniors?

"The answer is somewhat ...we should fund programs to improve overall mental and physical health. These pay off in the long run, in a more productive society," he said. "Not taking care of older adults is an epidemic in the making," he remarked, adding, "I intend to continue to work on these issues."

Zwicker encourages SFZ News readers to get involved with seniors. "Volunteer for an organization in your area already doing good work; make calls, say hello. It's a tiny, but important gesture," he suggested. He also urges all NJ residents to be active in reaching out to legislators and asking them to work on behalf of seniors. "You have to really push," he said, "because there's a limited amount of available money." Advocacy for what we believe is important is as easy as sending an email in today's connected age, and is everyone's duty, along with voting, I put forth.

"In the end," Zwicker replied, "It is about making seniors a priority."

Morris County’s Tips For Older Residents Dealing with Pandemic Isolation

Originally Posted on Morris County Website

By Michelle Borden, NewBridge Services CEO

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, physical distancing remains the order of the day — especially for older adults.

But socializing is a basic human need, and studies show it contributes to better physical and emotional health. Isolation, on the other hand, is linked to depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, a weakened immune system, and high blood pressure, among other maladies. Seniors must seek out ways to connect with others while minimizing their exposure to the coronavirus.



Caring People: 4 Common Mental Illnesses in the Elderly

Senior Planet: Free Activities for People Over 60

VSC Subscription: Virtual Online Senior Center

Somerset County: Senior Grab N Go Lunches

CALL 1-800-971-0016


Institute on Aging’s 24-hour toll-free Friendship Line is the only accredited crisis line in the country for people aged 60 years and older. They also make on-going outreach calls to lonely older adults.

While there are other organizations that respond to the needs of people who may be contemplating suicide, none provides the type of services that IOA’s Friendship Line offers to respond to the public health problem of suicide among the elderly.

Knowing that older people do not contact traditional suicide prevention centers on a regular basis, even if they are considering suicide, IOA created the only program nationwide that reaches out to lonely, depressed, or suicidal older adults. Their trained volunteers specialize in offering a caring ear and having a friendly conversation with depressed older adults.

Grassroots advocacy is simple; it’s about using your voice to influence policy makers. Turn your experience into a positive voice with the NAMI Smarts for Advocacy grassroots advocacy training.


?Whether you are new to advocacy or have years of experience, this FREE integrated training will equip you to be informed, confident and ready to make a difference. NAMI Smarts for Advocacy modules include: Telling Your Story; Emails and Phone Calls; and Meeting Your Legislator. NAMI Warren County NJ trainers will guide you through the interactive process.

Registration closes on Sunday, October 25 at 5 pm.

?Space is limited to the first 300 registrants.

For information, contact Phil Lubitz at [email protected] or 732-940-0991.

Module 1 will be offered on

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

11 am - 1:00 pm

‌ ‌ ‌