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Local mental health agencies remain a lifeline for many Local mental health agencies remain a lifeline for many

Press of Atlantic City - 5/1/2017

When: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., May 15

Where: Ram's Head Inn, 9 West White Horse Pike, Galloway Township

How much: $20

More info: Visit of call 609-652-3800.

Mental Health Association in Atlantic County

Visit or call 609-652-3800.

Acute Care On-Call is available daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 609-517-8614

NAMI Atlantic-Cape May

Visit or call 609-927-0215

Cumberland County Guidance Center

Visit or call 856-825-6810

Cape Counseling

Visit or call 609-465-4100. A 24-hour hotline crisis number is available at 609-465-5999

Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties

Visit or call 609-822-1108

New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services


Roberta Franchetti didn't know what to do when her adult daughter started hearing voices and hallucinating, so she resorted to books on mental and psychiatric illnesses.

Through educating herself about local resources, Franchetti was able to get help for her daughter and support for herself from local mental health agencies.

"I don't know where she'd be today without those people," she said.

Franchetti, 87, of Hammonton, became part of a community that few are prepared in joining. During a time when state psychiatrists are few and far in between, local agencies such as the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County often serve as the only lifeline for families living with mental illness.

"People will still say that they never knew we were here," said Portia Trader, family advocate at the association. "We continue to put ourselves out there and let people know we're here to help."

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Trader is one of the longest serving staff members among all Mental Health Association chapters in the state, working 37 years in South Jersey.

When she joined in 1980, the local association had just two people on staff and the office moved from place to place in Atlantic County before finding its current home in Galloway Township. Trader worked at the association when consumer advocate and volunteer programs just started.

"At the time, we were having a lot of problems with stigma in the communities," she said. "People were not letting people with mental illnesses get jobs. Consumers were going to Trenton and (Washington) D.C. all the time to fight stigma and start supportive programs."

Stigma around mental illness still exists today, Trader said, but to a lesser degree. In the past, she may have only seen several people come to a family support group. At the last two recent meetings, a conference room was filled wall to wall with families looking for help.

"There aren't many places available for mental health care," Trader said. "We've been at the forefront to push for more things to help people and we've had a lot of success."

Trader said local agencies may be the only place to go for people who can't find a psychiatrist taking new patients. A 2014 study by the Mental Health Association in New Jersey found that only about half of in-network psychiatrists said they were able to take new patients.

25 percent of psychiatrists said the wait time for a new patient could be as long as two months, according to the study.

Lack of timely access to some of these professionals leaves many people adrift when first dealing with their own mental illness or that of a loved one, said Jaime Angelini, director of consumer services at the association.

"They're not sure how to navigate the system," she said. "They're asking, 'Where do I begin?' But if they pick up the phone and call us, we get them connected to resources and help them navigate step by step."

Christine Miller, director of intensive family support services at the association, said the demographics of people seeking mental health care services have changed over time: It used to be more people with long histories of serious mental illnesses, often coming out of psychiatric hospitals.

Today, the association, in collaboration with National Alliance on Mental Illness Atlantic-Cape May chapter and other local organizations, treat people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, with a range of mental illnesses and severity of those illnesses.

Milestones in mental health services and treatment in the state have helped, Miller said.

Many programs came out of an explosion of funding in the 1990s after some psychiatric hospitals shut down. In 2007, state leaders established a recovery and wellness model with core initiatives that are still followed by most organizations and agencies.

As mental health providers prepare to switch to a fee-for-service payer model, Miller said programs and services the association offers now may not be possible due to future funding issues. It remains a concern among mental health professionals.

What they know for certain, Miller said, is the association and its community partners will continue to connect consumers, caregivers and family members to treatment programs, support groups, advocacy initiatives, education programs and other services as the need for mental health care grows.

"It's starting to come around, people are more accepting. There is hope down the road," Trader said. "My husband sometimes says, 'You get too involved with some of these families.' And I just say, 'How can you not?'"

Contact:609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.comTwitter @ACPressNLeonard


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