[continued on page 3] NJAMHAA NEWS Your Voice in Behavioral Health since 1951 Spring 2022 This issue sponsored by: T his year’s theme for Mental Health Month, Together for Mental Health, is especially fitting as the pandemic, economy and war are affecting everyone and these situations brought mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) into the limelight as never before. As state and federal government leaders have become more aware of these disorders, their impact on people’s lives and the demand for and value of services, they have responded with introduction of new legislation and unprecedented increases in funding. We always hope that the pandemic, war and precarious economic situation will end soon and never return. The silver lining of these difficult circumstances is the greater understanding of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, and the budgetary and legislative initiatives to ensure access to services for the increasing number of individuals in need. These outcomes demonstrate progress toward eliminating stigma, which is the greatest barrier, along with lack of insurance coverage, that stops individuals from seeking treatment and other support services. Increasing Demand for Services due to COVID, especially among People with Disabilities While individuals from all backgrounds have recorded higher rates of depression and anxiety during the pandemic, the increases were even greater among those who contracted COVID, and higher still for those with disabilities—including intellectual/ developmental disabilities (I/DD), as well as mental illnesses and SUDs. Individuals infected with COVIDwere more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and other disorders. The most acute impacts, however, were among individuals with disabilities, who have higher risks and a prevalence of multiple comorbidities. For example, numerous studies have demonstrated significantly higher risk of death from COVID among those with I/DD —between three and eight times higher than the general population. COVID also led to many more fatal overdoses across the country compared to prior to the pandemic. There was a nearly 30% increase in opioid overdose deaths in 2021 from 2019. In New Jersey alone, more than 1,600 individuals died from overdoses in just the first six months of 2021 and according to preliminary data released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office in November 2021, the number of suspected overdose deaths for the entire year would exceed 3,200. This would be an increase of more than 6% over the 2020 total and the most in one year since the state started keeping track in 2012. CEO Message: Mental Health Month Is a Great Time to Celebrate Progress toward Eliminating Stigma NJAMHAA Members Grow in their Careers and Impact |Page 8 Rutgers Initiative Helps Enhance Providers’ Wellness, Improve Retention and Quality of Services| Page 4 NJMHI Launches Leadership Academy for Behavioral Healthcare Professionals|Page 10 Inside this Issue