Hometown experts say mental health needs are increasing, help is limited

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -The need for mental health care is great. The help is limited.

“Unfortunately, there is a huge shortage nationwide,” said Dr. Norah Silver of the Behavioral Health Division at LewisGale Medical Center.

Supplier shortages are one of the key challenges our panel of experts, meeting in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, pointed to during Wednesday’s discussion — not to mention the effects of the pandemic.

“We’ve seen a general sense of isolation and loneliness that has contributed to depression, also an increase in anxiety because people are afraid of getting sick,” said Margaret Twigg, a License Professional Counselor and Clinical Team Lead for LewisGale’s Behavioral Health Outpatient. Services .

Salem Police Chief Mike Crawley said that when they step in to help, there are often not enough resources to treat the people they encounter, many of whom they have tried to help before.

“Because we often see them at 2, 3, 4 in the morning and it’s during a crisis,” he explained, adding, “It seems like when they do well in the facility, everything is great. And then they come back into society and all the pressures of life come back that’s when the problems come and that’s probably when they need the most help at that time.

dr. Silver said there has been a massive increase in the number of children seeking mental health services through emergency departments across the country.

“Unfortunately, there are just not enough beds available in hospitals and not a whole lot of community resources,” she explained.

According to the Virginia Mental Health Access Program, a division of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health, 51,000 children who had experienced a major depressive episode did not receive mental health treatment in Virginia.

While there is work to be done, there are bright spots that give these experts hope.

Drew Taylor, Counselor and Associate Director of the Student Health and Counseling Services at Roanoke College, said the stigma surrounding mental health among college students appears to be diminishing.

“Of course students these days are of a different generation and seem to think differently,” he explained. “They seem really willing to prioritize their well-being. They seem really willing to say, “Hey, I’m overwhelmed.” And they seem really interested in learning about their treatment options and how they access them, where they access them. There will still be people who are hesitant to reach out and there is some stigma in the community, but I think our younger people are the champions of that.”

And while COVID hindered so much, the help it provided also included rapid telemedicine.

“So that’s been really helpful, especially with the provider shortage,” said Twigg, and Dr. Silver added that it also helps those struggling with consistent access to transportation.

The push for services is also causing agencies like the Salem Police Department to look inward to address the mental health of those responding to a crisis.

The mental health of our practitioners, police officers and 9-1-1 coordinators. They’re people too,” Chief Crawley said. We assume that they will respond time and again to other people in crisis. Well, they may have their own internal crisis. And so looking ahead, I think we’re looking for some wellness visits for our employees. I think that will help us better serve our communities, our 9-1-1 telecommunications. The people who take those calls for people in crisis. So I think there’s a lot of good stuff going on, and it’s going to keep growing, but I think the first step is awareness.”

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