SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)
New Jersey Mental Health Players
Montclair, New Jersey
The New Jersey Mental Health Players (NJMHP) program has served New Jersey audiences for over 30 years by providing real-life situations surrounding mental health issues. The program’s goal is to teach the signs and symptoms of two appropriate issues during 1-3 hour sessions. The sessions include real-life role plays, directly followed by interactive discussions between the audience and the presenters facilitated by the Program Director, Sharon Curran. Materials explaining mental health and associated stigma are distributed to the audience during the program.
The Division of Mental Health Services, a part of New Jersey’s Department of Human Services, funds this educational program for New Jersey audiences. Instead of lectures, audiences are able to watch, listen, and then immediately provide their personal input to each of the presenters. This program is focused on the emotions of the audience members. By role playing, they can feel as if their input has made a difference in the characters’ decisions to seek professional help for their mental health diagnoses. At the end of the program, the Mental Health Players come out of character. Several reveal their mental health diagnoses and explain why they choose to educate the public about mental illness through this unique program.
The Program Director offers New Jersey citizens comprehensive training to become an active Mental Health Player. The training consists of eight in-depth sessions; each lasting 3 hours. After the training is successfully completed, the candidates attend a rehearsal and a presentation, during which they act as an audience member to understand how the interactive program works. The candidate is then able to become an active NJMHP volunteer and participate in presentations. Community organizations can request presentations and are asked to choose two mental health issues that most affect them to be focused on during the program (from a selection of 30 mental health disorders).
The host of each presentation is asked to send NJMHP a letter to summarize their views of the presentation and provide feedback from the audience members. These letters are seen as testimonials, and offer examples of the direct positive impact made by the Mental Health Players program on the audience and the community as a whole.
In addition to general community sites, this program has been training criminal justice and law enforcement officers for the past 10 years on a regular basis. For the past 2 years, the New Jersey Mental Health Players have been asked by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office to present to new recruits training to become police officers. The NJMHP educated New Jersey’s Family Court Judges at their annual conference, the Federal Court’s Pre-Trial Officers in Newark, New Jersey, and has been requested to continue educating officers at other New Jersey Federal office sites in Trenton and Camden.
For more information, contact Sharon Curran, Director of the New Jersey Mental Health Players program, The United Way Building, 60 South Fullerton Avenue, Room 105, Montclair, New Jersey, 07042; office phone: 973–571–4100 extension 312; program cell phone: 973–464–7364; fax: 973–746–0977; e-mail: email@example.com.