In 2005, thanks to a grant from the Truth Initiative, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-Division of Addiction Psychiatry, the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, (MHANJ) and the State of New Jersey Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) joined as partners to begin CHOICES. CHOICES stands for Consumers Helping Others Improve their Condition by Ending Smoking.
Dr. Jill Williams, Director of Mental Health Tobacco Treatment Services, at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-Division of Addiction Psychiatry (Rutgers-RWJMS), was frustrated by the lack of progress to educate mental health consumers about the importance of addressing smoking. She believed that given the correct information and choices, consumers will take steps to lead healthier lives. Research has shown that people listen to their peers and look to them for support. When mental health consumers reach out to one another it can lead to change in terms of individual behavior and the mental health system’s response to a problem.
Dr. Williams saw this peer-to-peer approach as an opportunity to increase consumer awareness of the negative consequences of smoking and the fact that effective treatment exists.
To reach consumers, Dr. Williams sought the help of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ) and Marie Verna, the organization's Director of Advocacy who is herself a person with a mental illness. Ms. Verna concurred with the theory that the best way to bring about significant systems change is to listen to consumers' needs and implement services according to what consumers say works - not necessarily what professionals say or what family members say.