Thirty-five years ago, Dr. Erich Coche and I decided to buy a tiny and barely affordable bayfront home on Corinthian Street in Stone Harbor because we loved the area. Already teaching internationally, we were well versed on the best of mental health practices. 

When we asked local physicians and clergy, we learned that Cape May County was sadly lagging in their collected professional mental health expertise. “Please open a practice here,” they said. “We need your skill.”

 As word got out and the practice took off, I became accustomed to diagnosing severe depression or suicidality for local citizens because they had innocently allowed their mental health to slide dangerously before acting.  I became accustomed to local youth no older than 15 gathering for beer parties on the roof of an unknown aunt. 

The most poignant of these experiences took place in our office on the bay in Stone Harbor half a block from The Reeds at Shelter Haven. I was sitting at a desk in our waiting room when an obese woman walked up to the desk. I can still see her. 

She was wearing a matching hot pink sweatshirt and sweatpants with dribbles of food running down to her waist. Shyly, she looked down at the dribbles and up at me again. 

“Doctor.” She hesitated. “Can they take my baby away from me just because I’m stupid?”

 Stunned, I tried to figure out what she meant, and then realized that the Department of Children and Families had asked Dr. Erich Coche to give her testing to determine her ability to parent. She was panicked that she would fail the testing.

I smiled, but could not honestly allay her fears. “I can see how much you love your child and I am sure this is clear to Dr. Erich,” I said. She turned, walked away, and returned to testing. I felt deeply moved for her, but appreciative that there were services to protect youth and give them needed skills.

Time passed and the practice flourished until Erich died tragically at age 49 from melanoma. I left the island for some years. 

In 2004, my current husband, John Anderson, and I decided to return to Stone Harbor. I was invited to be on the board for Volunteers in Medicine and was attending a luncheon for this group when I saw a tall man smiling at me. 

That man with the sparkly eyes was then-editor, Joe Zelnick, from the Cape May County Herald. He approached me and began a dialogue that led to his invitation for me to write about mental health for the public. 

“The Herald would love to have you. We need you,” he said with that sneaky grin that was his hallmark.

Since I wanted to give back my training to a community that needed good help, I was pleased to offer to write something.

“Let’s just see how it goes,” I said. And here we are over a decade later.

I am relieved to report that we have good mental health care in Cape May County and that our citizens take advantage of this care.

But I want to lead you to a great resource: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the leading federal agency for research on mental disorders.

It offers basic information on mental disorders. The list of topics includes but is not limited to: anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, ADD), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, substance use and mental health, and suicide prevention.

The list of treatments includes help for mental illnesses, medications, and psychotherapies for children and adolescents, men, and women.

In the years I have continued to share my ideas with you on making life work better, our county has woken up to the need for adequate service and tries to provide it. And during these years the editorial staff at the Herald has been a joy to work with.

We can count on them for full support of mental health concerns in Cape May County. And for that, I send them my deepest appreciation.

To consider: Whom do you know that disregards their mental health self-care? Is there a way you can reach out to them? How might that make a difference in their lives?

To explore: Go to https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml to explore the wonderful resources online that can educate you to your own mental health needs.

And please do feel free to contact me if you so choose.  I will respond. All of us need to respond when someone seeks our help about mental health. In the solidity of one another, growth occurs.  

Find Dr Judith Coche helping clients with mental health concerns at The Coche Center in Stone Harbor and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Contact her through www.judithcoche.com.