CCM Students Honored by Freeholders for Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

“Despite My Diagnosis” Series in The Youngtown Edition Receives High Praise

MORRIS COUNTY — Suffering in silence rarely, if ever, provides relief. Rather it is seeking assistance and being part of a community of people who understand that bring the strongest healing. Recognizing that, County College of Morris (CCM) students Raven Resch, of Belvidere; Alexa Wyszkowski, of Rockaway; and Marco Mirlas, of Landing, decided to use their experiences with mental illness to establish a place of acceptance to help others.

As part of a project for her Contemporary Social Issues class at CCM, Resch developed the concept for “Despite My Diagnosis,” a series of columns written by those who have struggled with mental illness. She presented the idea to Wyszkowski, who as editor- in-chief of the student newspaper – The Youngtown Edition – agreed to run the series this Spring Semester.

Resch, who has suffered with post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, explains that she felt compelled to show others that mental illness does not define a person nor eliminate the ability to have a successful life.

“There are so many people with mental illness and I want to show people that you can strive and thrive if you get the help you need,” she says.

Mirlas, as president of the CCM Writers’ Club, agreed to write one of the columns about his experiences with attention deficit disorder and to find others willing to share their stories. When asked, he would also proofread the works of other participants and offer suggestions as to their wording and content. A history major, who hopes to become perhaps a teacher or lawyer, Mirlas says he welcomed the opportunity “to help inspire others.”

In each of the columns, the writers have focused not only on their disorders, but also their successes in life on their paths to recovery and acceptance. The series was picked up by Morris County Proud to be Stigma Free, which included each of the students’ stories on its website. The stigma-free communities initiative, https://morriscountystigmafree.org/, is a county-wide program that aims to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. It is dedicated to raising awareness by creating an environment where individuals are supported in their efforts to achieve wellness and recovery.

On Wednesday, April 24, the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders presented Resch, Wyszkowski and Mirlas with certificates of appreciation for raising awareness that those with mental illness should not be defined by their diagnosis.

For Resch, a mother of a four-year-old, the turning point toward wellness took place after she checked herself into an emergency room because she knew she had to get better for her family. Working with social workers, she was encouraged to focus on building a successful life, so she enrolled at CCM and now plans to become a licensed social worker to help others as she was helped. At CCM, she also became involved with the Active Minds Club to assist with its mission to increase awareness about mental illness.

“I have found so much support for my dreams and goals here,” she says. “CCM does that for me.”

Wyszkowski, who suffers from severe food allergies and anxiety and depression, has extensive experience working to help others. She has spoken on panels for Food Allergy Research & Education, writes a blog on food allergies and plans to take Mental Health First Aid Training courses. At CCM, in addition to serving as editor-in-chief, she is vice president of service for the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. A dual major in culinary management and liberal arts, she also is working on two certificates in small business and special events. Her dream position is to be teacher who works with students on school publications, such as the newspaper and yearbook.

Regarding her work on The Youngtown Edition, her goal has been to assist with creating an atmosphere of acceptance and celebration. “Everyone is going through something,” she says. “I believe it is important to create welcoming environments.”

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