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Over 300,000 Virginians Suffer from Mental Health Issues

May 21, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and professionals are working hard to remove barriers to care for the more than 300,000 Virginians who suffer from forms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder. Left untreated, mental illness can lead to serious issues: drug and/or alcohol addiction, incarceration or even suicide.

Stigma, lack of awareness and lack of access are the primary reasons people do not seek help, according to Robert Miller, clinical psychologist and Behavioral Health Consulting Program director at Tri Area Community Health Center in Carroll County. However, many people on the ground are working to change that, he says, in schools, houses of worship and in the medical field itself.

"Our objective is to integrate behavioral health into primary care. It's a movement we are seeing more nationally, as well, as it's recognized that physical illness and mental illness are not separate."

Julie Froshe, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Blue Ridge Medical Center, says education is key: People must recognize that mental health issues must be treated, just as other physical illnesses are treated. She says while attitudes are changing, some people still have misconceptions.

"They think these are things you are supposed to be able to kind of snap out of or pull yourself out of. Or they ask, 'Is it a personality problem?'"

She says mental illness is much more complicated than that, and people should be encouraged to get the help they need, as opposed to having their mental illness dismissed as something that will pass on its own.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services offers a point of contact for resources around the state on its website at http://www.vacsb.org/.

Miller says help is available statewide for people who need it, regardless of ability to pay, at Community Health Centers and elsewhere. The most important thing is for people to get the help they need, he adds, whether it is counseling, talk therapy or medication.

Virginia statistics are available at http://namivirginia.org/assets/pdfs/Virginia_State_Statistics.pdf.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA