May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is designated Mental Health Awareness Month by the American Psychological Association. Nationally, one in four Americans will find their lives impacted by mental illness at some point in time, directly or indirectly. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a further toll on mental health, as the world struggles to adjust to a new way of life while trying to protect their overall health, continue working and care for their families. It’s a challenge that has overwhelmed all of us in recent months.

Now imagine that you are a person with special needs. You have a physical or intellectual disability that is apparent to others. You navigate through life differently and may need support with daily tasks, transportation and self-care. But you also have a mental illness. The mental illness remains mostly unseen. It can cause confusion between what is real and imaginary, and thoughts and feelings begin to blur. Now you have a small window into the unique challenges that many individuals served by Allies face each day, as 35% of these individuals also suffer with some form of mental illness. 

Marge Conner-Levin, MSW, and Vice President of Behavioral Services at Allies, Inc. provides some further insight into mental illness:

“Mental illness, whatever its trigger and at whatever age it hits, is a disorder of our brains. Unlike other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, mental illness has a terrible stigma attached to it. It may be viewed as a sign of weakness, or something that an individual caused to happen. Some people think it can be cured by will power.

The symptoms a person with mental illness experiences depends on their diagnosis, and the results of these symptoms can vary and cause domino effects. For instance, a person could experience decreased self-esteem, an inability to communicate and be understood, and this could fracture their relationships and cause a loss in friendships. A person’s erratic behavior may cause them to lose their job, resulting in a loss of income, the inability to pay for food and shelter, and could ultimately lead to homelessness.

These negative consequences can also bring about additional mental struggles such as depression, or they may cause people to turn to alcohol or drugs to comfort themselves or numb their pain. Relief is temporary, and in the long run they end up with two medical crises – untreated mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. In the worst cases it can result in suicide.

What is the key to preventing these hardships? It’s not one key, rather it’s a series of keys that can unlock the door to better mental health. We must reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, educate the public on mental illness so they can identify warning signs and symptoms, and empower people to seek proper treatment for themselves and their loved ones.”

Elise Tretola, CEO and Founder of Allies, Inc. remarks, “Allies is one of the few  service providers in New Jersey who offer care to individuals who have both an intellectual/developmental disability and mental illness. We believe no one should have to suffer alone with mental illness. With advances in funding and brain research, treatment options have expanded. We believe that everyone deserves to live an enriching and fulfilling life, and that includes being healthy in mind, body and spirit. Allies is dedicated to helping make this possible for everyone that we serve.”

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, please visit this page from the National Institute of Mental Health for resources that can help:

Allies, Inc. is a nonprofit agency dedicated to providing housing, healthcare, meaningful employment and recreational activities to people with special needs in the communities of their choice. To learn more, visit

“A world where limitation does not distinguish nor define.”

Contact: Marge Conner-Levin, MSW, Vice President of Behavioral Services, Allies, Inc.
Cell: 609-508-0786

Contact: Nicole Zamerovsky, Director of Communications, Allies, Inc.
Cell: 609-508-6181