May is National Mental Health Month: Participate in the National Community Dialogue

May is National Mental Health Month: Participate in the National Community Dialogue

By Jayme Pendergraft

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During May, communities come together to promote awareness and understanding of mental illness.

Mental illness affects most families. One in four Americans will have a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% begin by age 24. Mental illnesses include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, among many others. To increase access to care and create an open dialogue about mental illness, communities must address service system issues.

In 2013, President Barack Obama called for a “national conversation to increase understanding about mental health” and directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education to launch a National Dialogue on Mental Health. To support this initiative, Fauquier County, VA, held a Community Dialogue on Mental Health on April 29, 2014. Participants included social workers, teachers, police officers, elected officials, county government officials and people who have a mental illness, among others. Attendees worked in groups to address several key questions:

  • What is working to address mental health and substance challenges in our community?
  • What are the implications of mental health and substance use challenges for our community as a whole?
  • What needs to be done in our community to better prevent and respond to mental illness and substance use disorders?

Efforts already at work at a local level were described at the Dialogue, including:

  • Rapid Access Pilot: This is a pilot project that provided funding for one additional therapist in order to reduce the amount of time people have to wait for mental health services. Early intervention is critical in treating mental illness and often there is a significant wait to get into treatment, keeping many people from seeking help.
  • Mental Health School Coalition: An ongoing collaboration between the Mental Health Association of Fauquier, the Fauquier County Public Schools, Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services and private mental health providers has resulted in several significant efforts to increase mental health supports for students and families.
  • Mental Health First Aid: An evidence-based training for community members on recognizing and responding to mental health issues is now going to be available in Fauquier and the surrounding counties, as well as across Virginia.
  • Collaboration between Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System: A large group of professionals from the criminal justice and mental health community developed a plan to address the impact of mental health issues on individuals who become involved with the criminal justice system, on law enforcement, on courts, on emergency rooms, etc. The local Re-Entry Council has been progressing toward implementing that plan in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.
  • Fauquier Free Clinic’s Mental Health Supports: The Fauquier Free Clinic has recently added on-site mental health supports to serve their patients.

During the Fauquier dialogue, participants discussed six approaches to help improve mental health, which could be implemented in any community:

  • Uphold mental health as a key part of overall health and wellness.
  • Pay special attention to the mental health of young people.
  • Teach the whole community how to promote mental health.
  • Make it easier to access mental health services.
  • Increase funds for mental health services.
  • Build on programs that already exist.

How can you get involved? I invite you to consider how you can help in your community by volunteering for a mental health organization, participating in mental health first aid, or working with your local youth. If you are interested in finding your local community dialogue, please visit Creating Community Solutions.

The Community Dialogue was sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Fauquier County, Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services, and the Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center. Thank you to these organizations for providing the statistics and program information included in this blog.

For additional mental health resources, please visit MentalHealth.gov, Mental Health America and NAMI, in addition to your local mental health organizations.

Jayme Pendergraft manages programs designed to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities. She has particular expertise in Social Security Administration return to work programs. Read Jayme's bio.