Column: You and I Should Lead in Mental Health Response

Column: You and I Should Lead in Mental Health Response

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Unfortunately, we as a community and as a Commonwealth have not prioritized and advocated for mental health outreach and service solutions. The heartbreaking suicides by local high school students, the well-publicized suicide of Senator Creigh Deeds’s son after help could not be found, and the disproportionate numbers of our veterans struggling with mental health challenges all highlight the critical need to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and address the difficulty in finding treatment.

When faced with difficult issues, too often we ask “When is someone going to fix this problem?” Instead, let’s all begin to ask, “What can I do to help?” We all have a role to play in addressing mental health challenges.

Reducing the stigma associated with mental illness is not something government can legislate. Becoming conscious of mental health must be an active and ongoing process for all of us. Take the time to communicate with your neighbors, and learn about the struggle. Our neighbors with mental health needs are contributing members of our community as well. For too long we have isolated parents and children who are suffering. Instead, we need to extend to them the same compassion and understanding as we do to someone with a physical health condition.

Fairfax County Public Schools have taken a strong step forward by adding a link on their schools’ websites for mental health assistance. Woodson High School recently added mental health experts to its faculty. Fairfax County and its schools are working together to implement a new behavioral health initiative to help our children navigate today’s challenges.

Once individuals with mental illness make the decision to seek help and brave the barriers, they need to be able to find high-quality medical resources and support. Fairfax County does not have enough mental health providers, and many do not accept insurance, much less Medicaid. Our neighbors are suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder and they need support. Your County government recognizes this need, and we are working to find answers.

It is important to recognize that mental health issues are not uncommon in our community, although they may not be openly discussed. One in five Americans has a mental illness and many are reluctant to seek help for fear of stigmatization. Others may recognize that they would benefit from help but not know where to turn for care. As caring individuals it is our duty to help those struggling. Call on your state and local governments to streamline efforts and work collaboratively with community service boards to provide mental health treatment. Don’t wait for someone else to do the job.