Few people go through life without knowing someone impacted by mental illness. Recognizing this fact, Mental Health America designated May is Mental Health Month in 1949 as one of the first public initiatives to increase awareness and appreciation of mental health and to reduce prejudice and discrimination against people living with a mental illness.
As a Mental Health America affiliate, we have chosen May to launch a year-long public awareness campaign we are calling Partner for Mental Health Wants You to Know. Our goals are to:
- Increase your awareness of relevant local mental health issues
- Connect you to information about mental health care
- Celebrate our community partners that are successfully addressing the mental health needs of the Charlottesville area
Mental health is a local issue for our greater Charlottesville community. 1 in 25 of our neighbors in the city of Charlottesville, and Albemarle, Buckingham, Greene, Fluvana, and Nelson counties, lives with a mental illness serious enough to significantly interfere with their social, professional, and educational goals. This represents over 9,000 people: enough to fill the Paramount Theater to capacity more than nine times.
Since 1947, Partner for Mental Health has been helping our neighbors with mental illness build stable lives. We are both a local direct services provider working to connect people to clinical care and improve their social determinants of health, and a state-level advocacy organization working to improve Virginia’s mental health care service system.
Over the last seventy years, we have helped our community make great strides towards improving mental health care for everyone. Some of our biggest successes include:
- Advocating for the development of Virginia’s public mental health system and serving as a founding member of what is now the Region Ten Community Services Board
- Assessing conditions as Western State Psychiatric Hospital that led to national press coverage and statewide reforms to Virginia’s state psychiatric hospital system
- Participated in founding the regional Crisis Intervention Team, a group of law enforcement officers specially trained to respond safely and effectively to people experiencing a mental health crisis
- Were a leader in launching the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition, a local collaborative effort of over 20 partner agencies working to improve mental health outcomes
- Providing leadership to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Therapeutic Docket, a jail diversion program for people with mental illness facing nonviolent criminal charges
- Helped launch and provided leadership to Georgia’s Healing House, a sober living community for women in recovery from substance abuse
- Participating in the redesign of Virginia’s Medicaid funded mental health service system to create a continuum of care that is evidence-based, trauma informed, and easy to access
As we celebrate our successes, we also acknowledge there is still work to be done. Every day, at least one person with serious mental illness is booked into our local jail. Too many of our neighbors are experiencing suicidal thoughts, and the rate of suicide is increasing. Alcohol addiction and misuse is more common in our community than in most of Virginia and in-patient detox from drugs or alcohol is not locally available for most people. Charlottesville’s well documented wealth inequity and high cost of living make affordable housing options limited, something felt acutely by people with mental illness. Our health insurance premiums are the highest in the nation, and people that are insured often have high co-pays and deductibles that make accessing mental health care challenging.
Partner for Mental Health Wants You to Know we are committed to spending our next seventy years working towards solutions to these, and other, mental health related issues our community faces! We cannot solve any of these challenges alone, but in partnership with people in recovery, their supporters, service providers, and elected officials, we are hopeful for the changes we can affect together.