#WorldMentalHealthDay and environmental justice in New Jersey

Today is noted in news broadcasts as World Mental Health Day. In this past week I’ve had more discussions about mental health than is typical.

The book “The Drowning of Money Island” released October 1 talks about the nervous breakdown of the former business owner who is still one of my closest neighbors. I did not know about this detail until I read the book. I might have guessed the mental stress that came with their post-Sandy bankruptcy. The book also questions my mental status and decisions; a topic best saved for another post.

Two days ago I met with another neighbor, a business owner and engineer, who said that I looked much better now than the last time he saw me. At that time I was in the middle of two brutal legal attacks by the State of New Jersey. Like me, he is struggling to get by day to day. We talked about how the environmental justice struggles of the bayshore have taken a toll on our businesses, our physical health, the compound effect of loss of sleep, and the effect that stress has on deteriorating our marriages and family relationships. We did not directly discuss our own mental health concerns; it seems like just not a thing that guys do.

The main point is that it is not nature that is causing the mental stress around here. We can deal with storms, flooding and lack of fish. Unnecessarily cruel government antagonism, a complete lack of empathy, and sometimes outright criminal behavior is causing the mental stress here.

In the years following Superstorm Sandy I often wrote and spoke about the increase in mental illness, divorce and drug use in our community. It still breaks my heart that I never saw some friends again since the day before Sandy hit. I heard that one later committed suicide. I recall two public meetings where Cumberland County Health Department officials nodded agreement with my anecdotal observations but had little actual data to back these observations.

My observations, again and again, indicate that the increase in mental illness here is a direct result of failures of government to implement fair environmentally just policies. I brought this to the attention of the Governor’s office again this past year. I have yet to receive any acknowledgement of my letters, speeches, emails, calls or social media messages. I conclude that it’s not that the government isn’t getting the message but rather than our officials are deliberately avoiding addressing this difficult issue.

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