Collingswood Group Seeks to Normalize Talk Around Mental Health


Lindsay Carfagno established the volunteer organization Promoting Wellness to help de-stigmatize mental health concerns. The 21-year-old says her organization is small but growing.

By Abby Schreiber | December 28, 2016

Promoting Wellness Logo. Credit: Lindsay Carfagno.

In a given year, about 20 percent of all American adults are dealing with a mental illness, and one in 25 faces something that “substantially interferes” with “major life activities,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Even setting aside the implications of those numbers, it’s not a stretch to say that many Americans lack the ability to talk about mental health issues with the same confidence with which they discuss their physical health.

That’s why 21-year-old Collingswood resident Lindsay Carfagno feels it’s more important than ever to eliminate the social stigma surrounding mental illness.

“People weren’t taught this stuff in school, so they just have to figure it out on their own,” she said. “If we can teach them just a little about the issues, we’ll see a lot less judgment.”

In October, Carfagno, who’s completing a master’s degree program in professional clinical counseling at La Salle University, founded a volunteer organization she calls Promoting Wellness. Its aims are to normalize the language around mental health issues locally, thereby creating greater pathways for those in need to seek treatment.

“Ever since I was about ten, I wanted to do counseling of some sort,” Carfagno said. “I love to help people, and the help I can offer others is rewarding.”

Carfagno said her organization is not only for people dealing with mental health issues, but for their family members and friends to learn how to become more supportive of the challenges that go along with such issues.

Cards made by Promoting Wellness volunteers. Credit: Lindsay Carfagno.

“If you haven’t gone through [a mental health issue] personally, it’s hard to put yourself in their shoes,” Carfagno said.

So far Promoting Wellness has only met once; volunteers crafted support cards for people served by Catholic Charities, where Carfagno works in a group home for seniors with schizophrenia.

She’d like the organization to grow into a vehicle for monthly lectures with the help of professional volunteers like Robert Whitekettle of Collingswood, who will lead its first “Talking Wellness” event January 16.

Carfagno is also planning a May 5 fundraising dinner to benefit NAMI; she hopes to raise $5,000 through a combination of $30 tickets and a raffle.

“We want the group to become whatever is most helpful for the people  [involved],” Carfagno said.

Educating the community is just the first step in what Carfagno describes as a plan to bring Mental Health First Aid to New Jersey. In an eight-hour course, the program can certify average people to “to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.”

Lindsay Carfagno. Credit: Lindsay Carfagno.

“Truthfully, it should be everywhere by now,” Carfagno said.

“We’re kind of behind on that.”

In the meantime, she is dedicating herself to alleviating the impact of stigmatization on people battling several of the most common forms of mental illness—anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD—for which Carfagno said social factors make them less inclined to seek treatment.

“People think [those dealing with such issues] can just ‘snap out of it,’ because people just don’t understand,” she said.

With a little bit of support, Carfagno hopes she can at least snap some people out of preconceived notions of the very complex issues that surround mental health.

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