Back-to-School with a New Level of Awareness for Bergen Community College Students

Bergen Community College (BCC) and Care Plus NJ, Inc. (CarePlus) are working together to bring the SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Suicide Prevention Grant program to BCC’s campus by decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness and providing access to help.

Now in the third and final year of the grant project, CarePlus Training and Awareness Coordinator Jamisin Saracino, MA has been working to expand mental health awareness amongst the students, along with BCC Project Director, Kathy Pignatelli, Director of the Wellness Center, a part of the Center for Health, Wellness, and Personal Counseling on BCC’s Paramus campus.

Utilizing a public service campaign from CarePlus called SHARE and AWARE, Saracino has printed and distributed over 300 posters to BCC’s three campuses with a goal of keeping the “safe and healthy messages” prominent and top-of-mind.

“Safe and healthy messaging campaigns encourage and empower individuals to ask for help or to be that helpful support to an individual who may need help,” stated Saracino.

Mental health topics have been in the news more than ever over the past few years. Many professionals indicate that signs often present themselves in individuals in their teen and young adult years, and early action is key to recovery. Yet many individuals often go undiagnosed.

“Research indicates that one-in-four individuals will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and Bergen Community College has over 17,000 students. Research also indicates that most individuals who need support rarely ask for help, typically because of barriers such as stigma.”

GLS Suicide Prevention Grantees are funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for a three year period to support suicide prevention work on college campuses.

One of the goals of the GLS grant is to help de-stigmatize the concept of asking for help and to enforce the concept of feeling confident enough to be that person that leads a peer to help.  These print campaigns are intended to act as visual reminders and encouragements throughout the academic year.

The posters are visible on all three of Bergen Community College campuses: the main Paramus campus, as well as those in Lyndhurst and Hackensack.

Another aspect of the grant is to train students, faculty, and staff in the evidenced-based Mental Health First Aid training program. The goal is to educate participants on risk factors and warning signs for someone who may be experiencing a mental health problem and train them in the use of the Mental Health First Aid’s 5-step action plan to offer assistance and support to those in need.  Since the grant’s inception, a total of 347 campus community members have been trained.