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NJ among top states for happiness, mental health in new report



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Forget the traffic, taxes and pitifully poor state of the Jets and Giants.

New Jersey is actually one of the leading states in the nation when it comes to mental health and happiness, according to a report compiled by health care staffing agency Soliant Health.

Released this week for Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., Soliant’s “Happiest and Healthiest States” report ranked New Jersey sixth overall. The Garden State stands out for its mental health resources and the well-being of its residents, according to the Atlanta-based company.

Nebraska took the top spot, followed by Connecticut and Massachusetts. New Jersey fared well based in part on the low number of “mentally unhealthy days” recorded by state residents in an ongoing CDC survey.

Recipe for happiness

Soliant focused on three main categories: access to mental health care professionals, the number of times people reported bad mental health days and the availability of resources for physical activity. The report also looked at suicide rates among young people, unemployment, violent crime and numbers of “disconnected” youth, those neither working nor in school.

With a significant number of providers available across the state, New Jersey residents have better opportunities to seek help when needed, ensuring timely and effective mental health care, the report said.

West Virginia was last in the rankings, followed by Alabama and Arkansas.

Access to mental health care

Mental health professionals in New Jersey were stretched thin amid the uptick in depression and other problems that followed the COVID epidemic, according to Michael Tozzoli, CEO of Ridgewood-based West Bergen Mental Healthcare. But things have been getting better. More people are finding the help they need these days, albeit slowly, said Tozzoli, who has developed a training camp for counselors to meet demand.

“We’re a wealthy state as it relates to mental health services,” he said, adding that the density of the area means a higher number of providers are available.

Tozzoli also pointed to an open-minded attitude toward discussing mental health in the higher-ranked states. That acceptance helps to reduce stigma and increase the chance someone will seek help, he said.

More: Saint Clare’s names longtime paramedic as region’s first mental health champion for EMTs

“New Jersey ranks lowest, either number 49 or 50 depending on whose data you’re looking at [for] completed suicides,” he said. “So we are a little bit more open-minded around mental health.”

“The number of agencies, the number of private practitioners, just the very fact that we are talking about mental health a little more frequently, it may have some people reflecting and thinking, ‘What can I do to improve my own mental health?'” said Tozzoli. “‘Can I exercise a little bit? Can I spend more time with family? Can I take a day off?’”

Having bad days

The data on “mentally unhealthy days” is taken from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey that asks 400,000 people annually how many days in the previous month they faced stress, depression or emotional problems.

Sound body, sound mind

Access to exercise and outdoor activities plays a significant part in mental health, Soliant said in its report. States that ranked better offered more access to gyms, public parks and recreational facilities. Regular physical activity can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, according to the report.

Room to improve

While the Garden State performed well in several indicators, it scored only an average rating for violent crimes in Soliant’s rankings. Air quality was another weakness as were the mental health challenges of New Jersey youth, the report said.

The happiest & healthiest states, according to Soliant

  1. Nebraska
  2. Connecticut
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Minnesota
  5. Rhode Island
  6. New Jersey
  7. Vermont
  8. Colorado
  9. North Dakota
  10. Utah

Gene Myers covers disability and mental health for NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY Network. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: myers@northjersey.com

Twitter: @myersgene 





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