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P.O. Box 4452
Leesburg, VA 20177
703-443-1380 (VM)
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Friends has been serving Loudoun County as an all volunteer, non-profit organization since 1955. We advocate for mental health services. We educate about mental illnesses, the recovery process, and work to end discrimination. We prevent homelessness among Loudoun residents disabled by mental illnesses through three of our direct service programs. Become an advocate...get Friends to join our efforts.

Greater Understanding, More Resources Required To Address Mental Health Needs

Randy Ihara, South Riding, President Friends of Loudoun Mental Health | Posted: Friday, May 1, 2015, Leesburg Today

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an appropriate time to focus attention on an area of public health that is too often hidden in the shadows or avoided because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Too many families in Virginia and Loudoun County are struggling with mental illness, which has fallen like a dark night in their lives and on their loved ones. In Virginia 1.1 to 1.5 million adults suffer from mental illness of which about 240,000 to 300,000 are estimated to have serious mental illness. This condition reverberates throughout the community and is manifest in the statistics in many areas of social pathology, such as substance abuse, prison populations, and suicides.

For example, almost 250,000 adults in Virginia, who are substance abusers, are also suffering with mental illness disorders. Drugs are being used to self-medicate. Many of these individuals have become involved in the criminal justice system. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 74% of the inmates of state prisons in the United States who are serving time for drug abuse offenses also suffer from symptoms of mental illness. In Virginia there are more than 30,000 people serving time in our state prisons at an average cost of about $25,500 per inmate, of which about 22,000 are also suffering from mental illness. The cost of incarceration is significant, more than $500 million annually.

Suicide is another area where mental illness, such as depression and bipolar disorder, plays a significant role. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 9 out of 10 people who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness. In Virginia suicide is the 11th cause of death among Virginia residents and the 3rd leading cause of death among 10-24 year-olds, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. According to the Office of Virginia’s Chief Medical Examiner, the incidence of suicide in Virginia is greater than homicide. In 2012, for example, for every homicide committed, there were three suicides. Tragically, child suicides are a part of the picture in Virginia. Between 2006 and 2013, 202 children committed suicide, the majority of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17. Moreover, in Loudoun County the death rate from suicide in 2013 (9.2 per 100,000 population) substantially exceeded the rate of traffic deaths (3.7 per 100,000). Between 2006 and 2013, a total of 204 people committed suicide in the county.

Despite these statistics, public resources devoted to mental illness have not kept up with the growing challenge to public health represented by mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Virginia’s mental health system provides services to only 19% of adults who live with serious mental illness. Adequate funding for mental health services is only one of the major challenges to the system of mental health care in Virginia. Until recently, the General Assembly of

Virginia consistently reduced funding from FY2009 to 2012. In 2010, per capita spending for mental health was only $75-105 (in non-inflation adjusted dollars). In recent years, from FY 2014-2016, they have given modest increases to mental health funding. However, such increases have not kept pace with the need and the growth of Virginia’s population, so that total per capita spending has actually fallen to about $69.00.

In Loudoun County, funding for mental health services under the current Board of Supervisors has remained level at around $32 million from FY 2012 to 2014 while the county’s population has grown significantly. On a per capita basis that is an average of $94 (in non-inflation adjusted dollars). From FY2015 to 2016, funding has remained essentially flat. As a result, due to population growth, funding has fallen to $90 per capita.

The challenges facing Virginia and Loudoun County in providing mental health services to a growing population are many and significant. For example, the public stigma of mental illness makes it difficult for people suffering from symptoms to take action and seek help. If they do, they are confronted by a dearth of available public or private hospital beds. Those incarcerated face difficulties in gaining access to psychiatrists and mental health treatment services at the Loudoun County Detention Center. There is a significant need for greater training for emergency service personnel, including police and sheriff’s deputies in dealing with people suffering from mental illness. There is a need for drug courts to direct drug offenders into treatment rather than imprisonment and a police record. These are just a few of the challenges we face in addressing the needs of a significant segment of the population in Virginia and Loudoun County. One can hope that a greater public understanding of mental health issues will emerge out of Mental Health Awareness Month.
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