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Hoboken Initiative Hopes To End The 'Stigma' Attached To Mental Illness

HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBS 2) -- Hoboken has some notable firsts, claiming rights to everything from Oreo cookies to baseball. Now, it's taking the title as the first in the nation to become a so-called "Stigma Free Zone."

It is all part of a city-wide plan to help erase the shame attached to mental illness.

Driving into Hoboken, you'll see signs proudly promoting the city as the birthplace of two American mainstays -- baseball and Frank Sinatra. Now there are new signs in town declaring Hoboken a "Mental Health Stigma Free Zone." Some residents are bewildered and see it as fodder for yet more Jersey jokes.

"I have no idea what that even means -- maybe I'm psycho," one man told CBS 2's Emily Smith.

Organizer of the initiative, Brenda Luchetti, said it's a progressive act making Hoboken the first in the nation to bring such heightened awareness to mental illness.

"This is a serious illness that has a negative impact on people's lives and a big portion of their problem is the stigma," Luchetti said.

Inside city hall, an empty pill bottle tree serves as yet another way Hoboken hopes to get people talking. The tree was made by some local mental health patients.

Hoboken's mayor, Dawn Zimmer, has even declared the second last week in May "Mental Health Week" -- partly due to personal experience.

"I actually in my family have dealt with mental illness, so I know that it can be a real struggle for families," Zimmer said.

The numbers are staggering -- 1 in 5 Americans experience a diagnosable mental disorder in their lifetime, according to a report from the Surgeon General.

Hoboken police officers are also part of the initiative. They will be getting extra training in dealing with mental illness and classes begin next month.

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