Writers don’t get out much (otherwise they would never get anything written), so they can be forgiven for some of the questions directed to U.S. 1 regarding the annual Summer Fiction party this Thursday, August 21, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village.

Samples: One of my pieces was printed in the Summer Fiction issue — am I invited? Yes, you are invited even if you did not have a piece printed in the issue. Can I bring a friend? Yes. Friends and family? Of course. What does it cost? Nothing, but there is a cash bar.

We look forward to seeing many of you August 21. The formal introductions begin at around 6 p.m. and you can drop in even later than that and stand in the back without interrupting a single word. If you did have a story or poem published in the July 23 issue, please let us know you are coming so we can be sure to introduce you.

#b#To the Editor: Robin Williams’ Lesson#/b#

The world continues to react to the tragic news of the loss of one of our most iconic and talented entertainers, Robin Williams. Perhaps surprising to some is the statement that at the time of his death, Robin Williams had been battling a severe depression. It seems hard to comprehend how someone who was capable of bringing so much joy and laughter into the world could be suffering from a mental illness that would rob him of his life.

In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression affects 5 to 8 percent of adults in the United States. This means that about 25 million Americans will have an episode of major depression this year alone, but only one-half receive treatment. Without treatment, the frequency and severity of these symptoms tend to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to serious impairment in daily functioning and even suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Researchers believe that more than one-half of people who die by suicide are experiencing depression.

As devastating as an illness like this can be, there are treatments which can help. But all too often, those who suffer fail to seek treatment, either because they don’t know where to turn for help, or because of the stigma of admitting they have a mental illness diagnosis.

At NAMI, we say that “it’s time!” It’s time that we make mental health services available to those who can’t afford it. But even more importantly, it’s time that we start talking about mental illness and the devastating toll it is taking on our communities.

These diseases have a biological basis, like any other disease. And though our understanding of the biology which leads to symptoms like depression, or anxiety or psychosis, is far from complete, we have the opportunity to save lives by engaging in a conversation that communicates our support, understanding, and respect for the individual. They are not their diagnosis. And with our help, they have hope for a life full of dignity and respect.

Out of tragedy, sometimes comes the spark for change. Robin Williams, with his humor and his generosity, tried to make the world a better place. By all of us taking a stand to improve the availability and access to mental health services, in particular in our local communities, we make the world a better place. By sharing our own stories of a life affected by mental illness, we give others the courage to seek help and treatment. It is time.

Our free programs offer education, support and advocacy for individuals and their families affected by mental illness. Contact us at helpline@namimercer.org or by calling 609-799-8994.

Sally Osmer, LCSW

Executive Director

Karen Marquis, PhD

President, NAMI Mercer

Board of Directors

#b#Help Needy Kids Prepare for School#/b#

Over the years, HomeFront has expanded its breadth of services to address the many issues surrounding homelessness and the cycle of poverty, however, our Back to School drive, one of our first community efforts for specifically selected clothing, shoes and school supplies, has always resonated with me in a special way. Everyone agrees that education is the key to climbing out of poverty and, for kids, feeling comfortable in school is the first step to education.

In her best-selling non-fiction account of childhood homelessness and poverty, “Etched in Sand,” author Regina Calcaterra recounts the horrors of “dumpster diving” for school clothes by literally being lowered into trash dumpsters to dig around for rags that she and her siblings could wear, and then facing the jeers and laughter from her classmates that was prompted by her appearance. Kids who find themselves born into homelessness and poverty have more to deal with in their home lives on a daily basis than many of us do as adults. In addition, they need to somehow find the focus and concentration to achieve in school, as it is their only hope for a different future.

Our Back to School drive gives these kids a chance to feel comfortable in school and present themselves to their peers and teachers on that all important first day, not as a homeless child, but as a child who is like everybody else, worthy of friendship and respect and ready to learn. And, as any parent out there knows, that first day usually sets the tone of the whole year. I can’t think of a more meaningful and practical way to help a child begin their journey out of poverty than to give them the gift of comfort and self-esteem so they can concentrate on learning and growing.

Your willingness to make sure a child feels proud on the first day of school will mean more to him or her than you can possibly imagine.

Connie Mercer

Executive Director

HomeFront

#b#Corrections, Etc.#/b#

From Eileen Sinett, public speaking coach quoted in Richard K. Rein’s August 13 column on listening skills, “please note: Comprehensive Communication Services is now Speaking that Connects!” The tagline to Sinett’s E-mail reads “promoting confidence, clarity, and connection in speakers worldwide.” For more information on Sinett’s Plainsboro-based firm, visit www.speakingthatconnects.com.

At the end of Susan Van Dongen’s piece about the Albert Music Hall in Waretown, we consulted Google maps and appended some directions on how to get there. We probably should have consulted Van Dongen instead of the Internet. As she later pointed out, she once lived in southern Ocean County and offers this route to avoid the tolls on the Garden State Parkway:

Take Route 539 from Allentown down through the Pinelands until you get to Route 72. Take Route 72 east (as though you were going to Long Beach Island) and go about three miles to where the road forks into Route 532. Bear left onto 532 (Wells Mills Road) and the Albert Music Hall will be within a few miles.

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